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Part VI: My Spiritual Quest

Ingram, Daniel Aeon Books ePub

MY SPIRITUAL QUEST

In titling this part “My Spiritual Quest”, I am making fun of myself. I got the title from a friend saying someone else's dharma book should have been titled Let Me Tell You about My Spiritual Quest, something that I had tried to avoid as much as possible in MCTB1. However, I have concluded after receiving much feedback on MCTB1 that it would be worth adding more about my own life and practice so that people will get a better sense of the causality that led to this book, the reasoning, the background, and some of the key experiences and influences that finally led to the words you find here.

I also felt that doing so would help reduce projection, that tendency we all have to ascribe qualities, attributes, emotions, and stories—positive or negative—to other people that are not an accurate assessment of the person but are instead about our own stuff. Projection is inevitable, and most of us do it all the time, myself included, but better data can help to mitigate some of that inevitable projection. The problem when projecting is that we are proceeding from a distorted view of reality, both of ourselves and of the other person or thing. We are likely to be convinced that the people we are projecting specific qualities onto are either far better or far worse than they are, and consequently, by natural comparison, we come to a similarly inaccurate relative assessment of ourselves in the process.

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Part V: Awakening

Ingram, Daniel Aeon Books ePub

AWAKENING

Before I discuss the various models, I should begin by saying that this is almost certainly the most easily misconstrued chapter in this book. Further, if you are a big fan of standard Buddhist dogmas, I strongly recommend that you stop reading this chapter now and skip ahead to other sections of this book. Seriously, I'm about to get quite irreverent again, but in that irreverence are bits of wisdom regarding the models of awakening that are hard to find so explicitly stated elsewhere.

In the ongoing “axes of development” theme, this chapter will discuss various beneficial perceptual and functional modifications and insights you can realize about the way reality manifests. I am also going to talk about a lot of the traditional models found in various forms of Buddhism, but before I do, I want to talk about models in general, particularly their general uses and problems. We have already seen a lot of this with the progress of insight, but it is more important in this chapter, as the progress of insight is in many ways very straightforward (in other ways not so much), but it is a wonder of straightforwardness in comparison with the models that deal with stages of what might be termed realization, enlightenment, awakening, etc., which have serious problems. While I am generally known as a “map guy”, I think that most of the maps of awakening are seriously problematic, and I find that only a few contain some degree of accuracy and have some degree of practical value.

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Part I: The Fundamentals

Ingram, Daniel Aeon Books ePub

THE FUNDAMENTALS

If you have not yet read the Foreword and Warning, please do so now. The Buddhist path has often been called a “spiritual path”, and this use of religious language can be very inspiring for some people. The Buddhist path can also be thought of in terms of a scientific experiment, a set of exercises that the Buddha and his followers have claimed lead to very specific, reproducible, verifiable effects, which are deemed not just worthwhile but liberative. Using this sort of practical, more scientifically oriented language can also be very inspiring for some people. However, as science doesn't often provide explicit emphases on the meaning and relevance of its findings to living humans with hearts and minds, language and concepts that can bridge that gap are often useful.

To inspire a broader audience, I will use both spiritual and practical language when discussing some of the elements concerning the Buddhist path. My preference, however, is generally for the practical language. You could throw out many of the religious trappings of the Buddhist path and still have a set of basic practices that lead to the expected effects. You could also keep all the religious trappings, do the basic practices, and produce the same results, assuming of course that you had the extra time and resources necessary to do both. That said, sorting out which elements are disposable and which are vital for getting the experiment to work is not always straightforward. Some reformative movements can easily go too far when their proponents attempt to remove all elements that don't fit with their current cultural preferences, aesthetics, and biases. So, it will be for you, me, and our fellow practitioners and adventurers to help sort this out by our own practice.

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Part III: The Shamatha Jhanas

Ingram, Daniel Aeon Books ePub

THE SHAMATHA JHANAS

To me, the word jhana (a Pali word that literally has two basic meanings, “to contemplate”, and “to burn up”, as in to burn up unskillful states of mind) refers to a whole mode of attention, a whole broad package of mental aspects and possibilities that are vastly more essential than they are typically considered to be. Traditionally, there are said to be eight jhanas. They are called simply the first through the eighth jhanas. The first four are called “formed jhanas”, largely to differentiate them from the last four jhanas, called the “formless jhanas”. The “formless jhanas” are states that take rarified experiences, such as Boundless Space, as their object of attention. It can also be useful to split the eight jhanas into subparts, as each one develops in a predictable fashion in sub-stages, and these can be useful to the technical practitioner when exploring various modes and aspects of attention and the vast range of experiences that we can access in the jhanas.

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Part II: Light and Shadows

Ingram, Daniel Aeon Books ePub

LIGHT AND SHADOWS

While there is much light and wisdom to be found in the various Buddhist traditions, there are a lot of shadow sides to Buddhism and meditative traditions in general, some of which will be discussed here. Some chapters in Parts Two through Five have a distinctly cutting tone. This is intentional, though no harm is meant by it. Perhaps a more cutting tone will help to illuminate points that tend to be unmentioned or poorly addressed. Perhaps it will also serve to spark skillful debate and inquiry, rather than causing needless defensiveness and contraction into fear and dogma. However, I should warn you now, some of the next three chapters have quite a bite to them. There is no information in those chapters that is essential to any of the basic practices, though I do think that plenty of it is useful. If you are not in the mood for some heavy and scathing social commentary on contemporary Buddhism, please, skip to the chapter “A Clear Goal” now!

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