Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dharma Talk(s) 019 - The Progress of Insight

Somewhat amazingly, someone from the IMS tradition is talking with relative openness about the "progress of insight", an old Buddhist map of progress from the commentaries, most commonly associated with the Mahasi tradition.  The consensus meditation community tends to avoid direct talk about such things.

It is a fairly theoretical overview, but there are some practical tips and some references to actual phenomenon, for example in the section on the arising and passing.  Thanks to Winnie Nazarko (and Dharmaseed) for these talks, each of which is around an hour in length.

Progress of Insight part I - insights 1-3 starting around 40 minutes or so in

Progress of Insight part II - insight 4, the Arising and Passing

Progress of Insight part III - insights 5-11, the Dukkha Nanas thru Equanimity

For reference, the Progress of Insight, as outlined by Mahasi Sayadaw:
  • 1 - Mind & Body
  • 2 - Cause & Effect
  • 3 - Three Characteristics
  • 4 - Arising & Passing
  • 5 - Dissolution
  • 6 - Fear
  • 7 - Misery
  • 8 - Disgust
  • 9 - Desire for Deliverance
  • 10 - Re-Observation
  • 11 - Equanimity
My brief thoughts on this:
These could be thought of as forming something like a sine wave on a scale of pleasantness vs. unpleasantness, with the peak of pleasantness being at 4 - Arising & Passing, then sliding down through the zero point in 5 - Dissolution, then falling into the unsatisfactory valley of the rest of the dukkha nanas 6-10, then rising back to even once more to 11 - Equanimity at the end.  At equanimity, technical Stream Entry (cessation) is possible.

As for the first few nanas, there really isn't much there if you ask me.  These were I believe added by Mahasi for largely theoretical reasons and to have something to talk about for rank beginners.   3 - Three Characteristics are indeed part of Buddhist philosophy, but I'm not sure the nana is really specifically about that.  It's more commonly experienced, if at all, as something like a persistent hardness or pain and perhaps relates to the sustained attention required in the territory of 1st jhana.

And being able to let go of this sustained attention and/or pain, this leads to the release experienced in nana 4 - Arising and Passing, again, not sure it necessarily relates to the theoretical qualities of the title, but there can be great pleasantness, and there can be bliss and light and energy and so forth and it relates to the territory of the 2nd jhana.  Everything is beautiful, baby, and if a big experience is going to happen, it's typically going to happen in this territory.

Then on to the Dukkha (unsatisfactory) nanas, relating perhaps to the out-of-phase-ness of the 3rd jhana, and these can be thought of as something more like a kind of package rather than individual bits coming up separately in a specific order.  But these types of things can be experienced.  One might be more likely to experience a pang of fear out of nowhere or have a fear/danger dream.  One might be more likely to experience frustration in everyday life, or feel a grimace-like digust-type sensation in meditation.  At Desire for Deliverance, one may feel quite the need to get up off the cushion ("I gotta get out of here!").  Re-Observation, however, is the real boss, the real suck, like all of the dukkha rolled into one - an angsty, depressing, unsatisfactoriness.  The trick is to keep going, stay aware, and to allow it to be just like that.

And then one can break out of that, letting go into Equanimity, relating to the territory of 4th jhana, where everything is okay.  Pleasant stuff is happening, that's okay.  Unpleasant stuff is happening, that's okay too.  It's all good.

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