An American Mystic’s Cafeteria Plan
The 1980s: Eastern Works and Identification as a Christian Mystic
My spouse of more than 28 years first introduced me to the philosophy, psychology, and art of the East when I was a freshman in college, leading me to Zen Bones, Zen Flesh; The Gateless Gate; The Bhagavad Gita; and other works. At that time in my life, I was mad about Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. I went to the library and read books on gnosticism. In addition to some bizarre effects of migraine auras, I experienced a profound out-of-body flight at age 18. I identified as a Christian mystic.
The 1990s: Scholarship as a Poststructuralist
As I entered graduate school, I shed all notions of spirituality for unembellished existentialism. Although I had a close friend who meditated and urged me to begin throughout graduate school, my interest in Buddhism at the time remained academic. I was a literary critic in the realm of postructuralism, particularly deconstruction, which, despite rumors to the contrary, is not one of the hell realms.
As part of my PhD dissertation on Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, I studied Zen Buddhist koans for 5 years and matched their mobius-strip structures and circle metaphors (pagodas, card tables, bowls) to those informing James’s unparalleled masterpiece.
The 2000s: Anxiety, Seeking, and the Beginning of Meditation
Throughout the first decade of this century, I was busy raising my son and putting up with more or less intense bouts of anxiety and bizarre complex migraine manifestations. I suffered panic attacks and travel phobias related to this rare manifestation of migraine disease. In 2010, at the urging of a childhood friend who suddenly appeared in my life again, I began simple calm-staying concentration practice, for just 5 minutes a day, in an attempt to find better, nonpharmacological ways of coping with my anxiety. My adherence to meditation was spotty, even though the second or third time I ever meditated I saw bright lights and experienced intense rapture.
From 2011 to 2012: Tibetan Buddhism in the Gelug Lineage
When I finally buckled down and became dedicated to practice, it wasn’t over anxiety. It was because I had noticed how fleeting pleasures were, how I flitted from hobby to hobby, person to person, seeking something unnameable that apparently couldn’t be found. This was a rudimentary but important insight into impermanence, one of the Three Characteristics of conditioned phenomena, the other two being the emptiness of inherent existence of all phenomenon (in Theravadin parlance, “not-self”) and suffering . More specifically, what drove me to diligence in practice was beginning insight into one of the Three Delusions, which are the delusional opposites of the Three Characteristics. Namely, in addition to seeing through the Delusion of permanence, I was seeing through the Delusion of satisfaction. I was noticing not only that nothing satisfied for long, but that this was a fundamental problem of human existence. During 2011 and 2012, I regularly attended classes and talks at a local Tibetan Buddhist (Gelug) center. I learned much important doctrine and philosophy there, but I was dissatisfied with the lack of instruction in meditation and with the impenetrable hierarchy and its presumption that time in the fold equaled skill. Moreover, I was put off by the conflation of rich Tibetan cultural elements, some of which were superstition or the hierarchy’s attempts to control, with sound method.
From 2012 to 2013: Thai Forest Theravadin Restart
In 2012, for several reasons, I left Tibetan Buddhism and started teaching myself to meditate out of meditation manuals of Thai Forest masters, first learning about jhanas, vipassana, and what accompanies them. I experienced in a series of lucid dreams what I was later to learn was the insight stage known as the Knowledge of the Arising and Passing Away.
From 2013 to 2014: Pragmatic Dharma Movement
In 2013, a friend asked me to be in a discussion group tackling Daniel M. Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book (2008). I lurked on Daniel’s forum and perhaps would never have posted there—as extremely few women do—had I not suffered an unusual reaction to experimenting with Burmese fast noting practice as Ingram’s book instructed. In short, my vision became so warped and undulating for about 6 weeks that I could barely work and ended up in the Emergency Department, where I was diagnosed with a persistent and rare migraine aura called metamorphosopia. I posted on the forum about my distress, and Daniel himself responded immediately, offering to help me. The first time I communicated with him was from the hospital where he had earned his MD in emergency medicine. I was later to learn that we both earned English degrees in the same building during the same years a quarter of a century beforehand.
From Fall 2014 to July 2015: Stream Entry and Collaboration with Dan Ingram
About a year later, in August 2014, I began working with Daniel to restructure, amend, and clarify the second, revised and expanded edition of his book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book (MCTB2). Within a few days of our making contact over the collaboration, I experienced stream entry, or the attainment of Theravadin First Path. Without Daniel’s work, I doubt I would have been able to navigate the stage of Equanimity well to stream entry. We became friends and had a voluminous correspondence in addition to exchange over the book. He helped me personally with my practice, with frequency and depth. I made rapid progress.
In February 2015, he agreed that I could quietly revive the nonpublic Dharma Underground, choosing and vetting the members. This is where I first kept most of the entries that now are made public here in Dharma by Dark Night
Jenny’s Practice Journals
Toward a Dawn with No Dark to Follow
Dharma by Dark Night
My first practice journal, Dharma by Dark Night, was so titled not only because of the allusion to the Dark Night of the Soul, also known as the “knowledges of suffering” as delineated by Ingram – difficult cyclic insight stages – but also because I formally practiced late at night, on the cushion, during the year that I dwelled in the Dharma Underground. This is a journal whose entries I’m still transferring from what I rescued from the Underground when I fled, or was banished. When I’m finished with the transfers, this journal will be complete and static. My favorite journal, especially for the Dharma Underground entries, it covers mainly the year between stream entry and the final of numerous altercations with Daniel, which ended our friendship, our book collaboration, my admittance to the Underground (and Overground), and my adherence to Theravadin methods and all four-path models of enlightenment.
Dharma By Daylight
The Theravadin Dark Night metaphor corresponds with the mostly Theravadin leg of my journey; the Daylight metaphor, evoking post-awakening focus on daily relative reality, subtly alludes to the Indo-Tibetan metaphor for the illuminating but unfindable essence of mind: clear light.
After the Mahamudra awakening of 29 July 2015, my practice became mainly off the cushion, focused as it was and is on integration of the gains, embodiment of the realizations, personal power and development, psychodynamic adjuncts to healing trauma, and, in short, all the levels on which awakening can continue to help transform a person. My interests for the past year and a half have been working with the Unconscious through tarot and dreams, lucid dreaming, ritual and other esoteric practices, and the highest siddhi of all: ability to teach and write. Dharma by Daylight is less about being a “Buddhist,” less about formal meditation, and more about what it means to become as fully empowered and human as the rest of the journey through this precious life permits.
A No-Nonsense Kit for Awakening
A year out from the final altercation with Daniel Ingram and the successful registration of my joint copyright in the revised and expanded edition of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha (MCTB) he and I worked on, I’m still in some ways recovering from the emotional, mental, and physical strain that working with him on such a big, and ultimately aborted, undertaking entailed. Be that as it may, I soon discovered and had signs in dreams that the way I was to move forward from that unfortunate scene was to write my own Pragmatic Dharma book. So I am. It is early in the research, outlining, and drafting stage. I have reasons to avoid revealing at this time all that I have in mind and the conversations I’m having with certain persons around it. But as plans firm up and execution is further under way, I will say more about the specifics. The book will, like MCTB, be a Pragmatic Dharma book, with a manifesto and a map-driven structure at the top level. It will be written in modern, accessible plain English aimed at western laypersons.
Unlike MCTB, however, it will be a complete meditation manual, leading practitioners from beginning practice to buddhahood, with specific practices for specific stages of insight and awakening along a “critical path” honed for efficiency. The map will drive method, and method will drive the specific modules of practice, whereas MCTB has little in the way of specific practices, and even less in the way of path-specific practices: Its value lies more in Ingram’s phenomenological descriptions of the Progress of Insight stages, which are indeed the best in the world.
My book will expand on the the best that MCTB has to offer, serving as a workbook-like companion to it. But it will in significant ways also be a corrective to MCTB, specifically in terms of that book’s lack of attention to Indo-Tibetan practices, to psycho-emotional barriers worked with as such, and to the feminine principle. Also unlike MCTB, this new book will have illustrations, tables, and templates to support concept, reference, stage and state diagnosis, and retention. It will, moreover, cover the highest stages of realization with methods that are concrete but nonetheless emphasize surrender over effort, the feminine principle over the masculine principle that more effectively characterizes earlier practice.
As the project furthers and I find time, which is scarce, I will post little instructional essays that will likely in some form end up in the book. These will be found on the Book page.