Friday, September 23, 2011

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha


I just finished a book about Buddhism that's been much more accessible and useful than any other book about Buddhism that I've read. It's called "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" and it is by a guy named Daniel Ingram. He starts off by saying he is an arahat. Then he talks about the fundamentals of Buddhism a bit. Then he bashes pop-Buddhism pretty hard, saying it's often fluff and everyone is just there to "talk about feelings or whatever, dude" instead of actually get enlightened. Then (and this is the good part) he lays out maps of the path from here to enlightenment. I have learned so much. For example:

- there are 3 main things you should practice: morality (being good at the real world), concentration, and insight (aka mindfulness, aka non-duality, emptiness, or seeing things as they really are). These are all distinct practices. So if you want to get better at concentration, practice concentration. etc.

- there are about 8 levels you can achieve in concentration, called the jhanas. they are temporary states, and mostly blissful, although they all have their own distinct characteristics.

- there are about 16 levels you can be in in insight, called the nanas. they are not temporary; they are basically things you learn. the first 3 are somewhat ordinary but still useful realizations, the 4th ("arising and passing away") is super intense, 5-10 are the "dark night" (depressing/difficult), 11 is peaceful again, 12-15 involve actually getting a taste of nirvana. (16 is a bit of a review) When you hit 15 ("fruition"), you are a "stream enterer." Then you repeat this path a bunch of times, eventually becoming enlightened. (aka an arahat)

This is all probably more detail than you care to know, but it is super super interesting to me, because it means that:
- you or I can actually get enlightened, probably in a matter of years, not decades or lifetimes
- there is a map. it's not just sit, sit, sit, sit, bang enlightened. there are intermediate steps, and you'll know when you hit them.

It's encouraging to actually think "I could go for enlightenment." I may do just that. If I do, I'll try to blog my progress whenever I think I make concrete progress, as much as possible. If at any point it seems like I've gone off the deep end, please let me know, but I'll try to keep reading, talking, cross-referencing, and making sure not to get caught up in any nonsense.

3 comments:

helicopter said...

Do yo think there are people who can actually fly (levitate)?.... I've seen pictures but I thought they might be fake. Just wondering....

Mr T said...

"If at any point it seems like I've gone off the deep end," quoth you.
"I'm not sure I'd know," quoth I.
Good luck. Is it proper to wish one good luck on the road to enlightenment?
If not, then may the force be with you.

Dan Tasse said...

Mr. T: I hope so, because I keep wishing people good luck! In all seriousness, though, I don't think there needs to be any particular decorum around trying to get enlightened. I think of it kinda like trying to get really strong.

Helicopter: In short, no, not like we think of flying. In long:
This is actually a very interesting part of the book, which I left out on purpose. In the concentration states (jhanas), after you attain the first four jhanas, Ingram claims that you can start to access the "psychic powers", or "siddhis". All sorts of things like telepathy and telekinesis and even flying. But (to paraphrase one meditation master he quoted), "Sure, I can fly. Just not in this dimension." I imagine this makes more sense if you've done it.

I've sort of ignored the siddhis so far because:
- talking about them could make me sound crazy
- if it's all true, their existence might make me fixate on them, and I'd devote too much time to becoming a psychic wizard and not enough time to becoming enlightened
- furthermore (as you can imagine) they're supposedly rather risky, so I'd like to go for the clear wins (better concentration, better wisdom) before trying magic tricks
- I don't have any clue whether it's all true or not, and I imagine I won't know until I get to that state. Kind of like a karate beginner reading about karate-chopping concrete blocks: maybe someday, but it's far off so I don't care much now.