Jhana Factors Matrix for Easy Reference and Memorization

Table 1 is a “measles” matrix that you may find handy for reference and memorization of which mental factors define which of the formed jhanas. Some version of this will appear in the book. I wish I had had it when I was starting out.

The Critical Path to Enlightenment: Concept and Value Proposition

 

The project is still early in the research, outlining, and drafting stage. It has several times been on hold, moreover, because of the schedule demands of a collaborator. But as plans firm up and execution is further under way, I will reveal more specifics.

The Project Management Concept of Critical Path

The book builds on the Pragmatic Dharma ethos in the sense that it includes a western future-oriented manifesto and a map-driven structure at the top level. It is written in modern, accessible plain English aimed at busy western laypersons. Critical path is a concept borrowed from modern business project management theory. It is the delineation of all the necessary stages and steps toward a project goal, the longest expected duration of each step, and the “dependencies” of the beginning of one step on the completion of some prior step or steps. A critical path yields the shortest possible beginning-to-end representation of the route to a goal. Thus, the book, The Critical Path to Enlightenment: Model, Map, and Method, is a whole-path project management template from zero to Buddhahood.

Value Proposition for the Dhama Book Concept

The concept for this book sprung from a stark lack persisting in the burgeoning western dharma book market: Although countless niche books exist on this or that isolated theory or practice morsel, nothing exists to empower the practitioner to plan the most efficient whole path toward the goal of enlightenment, to document and interpret preliminary results, to diagnose stable attainments, and to confidently navigate the order of stages and levels of meditation practice efficiently.

To illustrate—a friend who is a teacher mentioned to me recently that one of his new students, a beginner, was diving into wrathful deity practice as a first entry to meditation because that student thought a book on the specific practice “sounded cool.” My teacher friend and I laughed, but this situation is the norm rather than specific to this student. The dharma book market is currently a buffet with no defined meal courses governing menus governing, in turn, recipes. Without continuity-of-care whole-path guidance, the practitioner risks misdirection toward the ultimate goal—enlightenment—as well as toward the mastery of the currently alluring practice morsel.

The Critical Path to Enlightenment solves this pervasive problem by delineating in plain modern English a coherent model of enlightenment, a tested syncratic map of the stages and substages of spiritual realization, and diagnostic criteria for the completion of each substage. The practitioner traverses the “critical path” honed for overall efficiency: Model informs map, map drives method, and method drives specific modules of practice and their before-and-after diagnostic criteria. 

Unique Contributions to Pragmatic Dharma and Beyond

Although, as summarized, this pragmatism may initially sound dry to meditators who currently labor under the misguided but culturally pervasive notion that meditation is relaxation therapy, its fuller execution departs from other works of Pragmatic Dharma in ways that will inspire all practitioners. Specifically, the pragmatic eclecticism of this book means significant inclusion of Indo-Tibetan-inspired practices, among others, not just Theravadin practices. Additionally, this book addresses psycho-emotional challenges and works with them meditatively as such.

Perhaps most different from other Pragmatic Dharma works is this book’s explicit commentary on the shifting fulcrum between the “masculine principle” and “feminine principle” as ways of conceptualizing practice approaches as a practitioner advances: The beginning of the path emphasizes the masculine, the middle-to-high path emphasizes the feminine, and the highest end of the path reaches a new extent of masculine-feminine integration by reintroducing the masculine. The aim is wholeness. Specifically, The Critical Path brings into relief the ways current hypermasculine modes of practice and concomitantly patriarchal dharma politics must be balanced by the feminine archetypal principle in individual men and women alike if the dharma is to survive, evolve, and thrive in the West. This book drives what is at stake into fertile open ground.

To achieve its aim as a complete workbook for awakening, The Critical Path to Enlightenment includes illustrations, tables, and templates to support concepts and diagnostic comprehension, retention, and reference. It includes sections on logistical questions, such how to choose and interact fruitfully with a teacher, how to instill daily practice as a habit, and how to approach retreats. Audio recordings of guided meditations are planned to follow.

Attentional Nonduality with a Visual Object (“Luminosity”)

 

Jenny

Since you got stream entry, has your perceptual experience of, say, a distant cloud changed? Yes or No. If yes, how so?

Vasily

That question is so fundamentally hard to answer. Okay, let me go look at a cloud real quickly.

Okay, it’s super cloudy, but I got the general gist. So there’s this feeling I get: “Oh, wow, I’m really here, and I was here before but not quite and now here’s this sky, and it’s really here and vivid. It feels like there’s another dimension to it that wasn’t perceived earlier, like I saw the cloud (sky) but didn’t really see it.”

This has been happening with all five sense doors over the past couple months. It is like meaning and dimensionality have just begun oozing out of everything. I’m like, “How have I been missing this this whole time?”

Is that useful?

Jenny

Maybe. Let’s stick with vision for now.

Vasily

There’s more color and brightness to things, like high-definition.

Jenny

You remember all the talks we had with Daniel in the DhU about luminosity?

Vasily

Kind of.

Jenny

The brightness, the vividness, the higher definition . . . those are like secondary effects of luminosity and are truly visual. So it is good that you are noticing all that and can articulate that. This part is easy to articulate. The primary effect of luminosity, on the other hand, is a bitch to describe even when one has it and makes a living off using words.

Andrew

You know, things are just like, right there!

Jenny

Yeah, hahaha. Vasily, in regular dualistic perception, the object viewed is solid, discrete, and over there. And you are over here, and your awareness over here processes the sight experience such that the object is over there, unto itself, separate.

Vasily

Yeah, see,  that’s what’s the hard part about that question. It now feels natural for the space to feel unified. It doesn’t feel as much like I’m looking at the sky as that there just is this colored expansion of space and the colors change and the forms change
but things are really the same, if that makes sense. There’s also something to do with creation. Everything’s being created at once. And it is flowy somehow. That’s harder to explain, but I can go into it if you think it’s relevant.

Jenny

Luminosity happens while looking at an object happens. But the primary effect, as opposed to the secondary effects of clarity, high definition, and color saturation you mentioned, isn’t actually visual. It concerns the “consciousness” part of eye-consciousness.

Vasily

Right.

Jenny

So, in terms of separate Subject and separate Object . . . you say they are unified and in some sense the spatial demarcation of Subject/Object and the extension aspects differ from what they were before luminosity dawned. Yet the experience, you say, is somehow still “flowy.” 

Vasily

Like I flow into the sky/cloud . . . in some way.

Jenny

Specifically, “you” flow out into all this, and the “all this” oozes forth, as well. So the “flowy” aspect of the experience is because, in one sense, there is still an over here and an over there and they are “conversant” with each other dynamically, as it were?

Vasily

Well, not quite. Maybe there’s some part of that is like that. Yeah, there’s an over here and over there, but they really aren’t that different. They’re merely at different spatial locations, and that’s what I was getting at.

Jenny

Good.

Vasily

There’s this kind of “just space” that’s colored. There’s something underneath it.

Jenny

Underneath “just space”? And what is that? What seems to be underneath it?

Vasily

Awareness. Like something underneath the whole experience is immovable, un-understandable, consistent, and comforting.

Jenny

Alive.

Vasily

“Alive” is what I mean by the “creation” aspect: how these solid things seem to be simultaneous creation somehow. I’m still trying to get a better sense of that, however. All of that isn’t 100% finalized for me.

Jenny

So, just to summarize thus far—this attentional experience of an object is nondual, in one sense, because, although there is a dynamically fluid interchange of you with yon object, and hence an over there and over here, there is also one unified field that is vast, still, and pervaded by awareness.

Vasily

Yeah. Exactly.

Jenny

When I was first experiencing luminosity, I thought that my mind was fused with the distant cloud I gazed on outside my office window. It was as though my mind were over there with, in, or even as the cloud. But weeks and weeks later . . .

Vasily

Yeah, but I can see how the outflowing isn’t really positive, because that’s still implying mind over here going into over there.

Jenny

Yes, “flow” might seem to be still implying the unidirectionality of what in Dzogchen is called moving mind, which is the mind that clings to or pushes away objects (via the Three Poisons).

Weeks later, it seemed to me that “awareness” was impersonal, was with/in/as the cloud itself. As is ubiquitously parroted in the prag community, “The cloud is aware where it is.”

Vasily

Ya.

Jenny

However, the overarching truth is that both statements are simultaneously true: Your mind is at the cloud, yet the cloud is always already “processed” into being—without your subjective Perceiver manipulation’s being required.

Vasily

Right. Which is really what I’m trying to get at: Any feeling of nonduality is just another perception, because this awareness is already awakened.

Jenny

Very good, Vasily. Well put. That’s really key to next getting to rigpa, which is a whole higher order of magnitude, so to speak, beyond luminosity.

When you gaze on an object, there is a sense of two fluid streams intermingling. Nevertheless, because awareness is omnipervasive, there is paradoxically a sense of stillness and constancy, meaning some “ground” that is no entity yet is emphatically not impermanence.

Vasily

Yeah. Which is why it feels like the consciousness sensations around my head are kind of flowing into this vast immovable thing, but not flowing into it, because they’re already part of it, just another vibration, wave, color, whatever.

Does that make sense?

Jenny

Yes. That sounds like Emptiness, which isn’t an entity, as nonetheless known as “one taste” or “one flavor” pervading all diversity of experience equally.

So your experience of your cloud is of bidirectional flow, interchange without clear origin on one side, and at the same time vast stillness because always already nakedly aware. Awareness has no arising, no passing, no contour, no edge, no inside, no outside. Realizing this, you are no longer funneling “out there” into “in here” in order to project “out there” into existence so you can take separate credit for its separate thingness. The default setting is about the ego structure’s need to remain the controller. 

Vasily

Yeah, that sounds right. I’m like 90% there, I think.

I’m also trying to notice (and this is more so about emptiness) how all thoughts / perceptions, even subtle ones of me needing to do anything, are empty, are just part of this luminous field.

Jenny

Yeah, okay on thoughts. I tend to address cognitive thoughts last, long after straightforward sense perception. Do you know why?

Vasily

Why?

Jenny

Because nearly everyone in the various Pragmatic Dharma communities has no more than MCTB second path, even when they think they have fourth path, and why? Because they are fixated on the nonduality of “thought” and cannot describe any change in relatively immediate feeling, seeing, or hearing. If you question them, they will say strange things, like that their perception hasn’t changed but their relationship to their perception has changed. To me and others I know, this “change” sounds merely conceptual and psychological rather than a true unbinding of sensory misperception at its root.

Thought is therefore a dangerous category to become preoccupied with first, because it can so easily stray off into mere conceptualization of nonduality instead of experiential nonduality. I believe this is why Daniel tended to overstate that “sensations” were everything: He was trying to correct for this reification of what we are talking about here.

Addressing “thoughts,” we quickly will get into the weeds and get lost and get stuck.

I’ve spent untold hours with my good friend DW because his map treats thoughts like any other sense door in this respect. But he does know and agree that the Pragmatic folk are fooling themselves in exactly this way.

So . . . this is all very complicated and requires we enter into long discussions about Mahamudra and Dzogchen. All we are doing tonight, though, is dealing with Vasily and luminosity. Put thoughts aside for now on this talk.

Let me say just in passing that “thoughts” are not things even in the most superficial samsaric regard. They have no weight, extension, color, size, or other aspect of space. So dealing with thoughts as if they reside in a space, or relate to space, is a categorical error from the outset. The reintroduction of “thoughts” into the vast luminous field has to be addressed with practices concerning time and impermanence, rather than space, which means we have to get into Mahamudra/Dzogchen. Tonight all I have time/energy for is luminosity. It is 3 a.m., after all.

It sounds to me like you have luminosity. This happened a few months ago?

Vasily

I feel like I’ve had this for a while. Just the visual high-definition aspect has been getting more obvious over past few months. Actually maybe I got something at a 1-day Dzogchen retreat a couple of months ago.

Jenny

This is why I wish you all would keep journals, at least for the sake of the unwashed masses who want to  awaken.

Vasily

That retreat did begin opening up some new territory.

Jenny

What did KD teach on that retreat?

Andrew

Thanks for the reminder. Need to restart my journal now that practice is moving again.

Vasily

Just classic Dzogchen stuff.

Jenny

Such as . . . ?

Vasily

Everything is light. Visualize hums burning up the entire field. We did that special Dzogchen breathing for mixing blue and red in each side of the lungs/breathing.

Jenny

Oh boy! That sounds like some tantra. Is he in Nyingma?

Vasily

But also some pointing-out meditation, like how Dzogchen true nature is right here.

DW

Delete the self, just hang in the quietness of the foreground of the mind; then you might see the things that are still noisy. Noise . . . that is where it’s still at if you can tune into that.

Andrew

The ocean is sometimes still, sometimes stormy.

DW

The complete silence of the foreground of the mind leads to opening the background that is awareness.

Jenny

Except that awareness (rigpa, we are now talking about) has no foreground/background or other edge.

Andrew

Using the same practice used to examine individual waves teaches you nothing about the whole ocean.

DW

Well, to me, awareness is hard to open because my heart chakra is noisy.

Jenny

The answer to your heart trouble is relational tantra. And add this mantra: “I release all martyr energies.”

Vasily

But isn’t heart chakra noise just part of it all? Or am I oversimplifying things?

Andrew

No.

Jenny

Vasily, no. Simple is good. Some of us cannot manage an uncomplicated version of simple, apparently. Samsara is self-generated confusion.

DW

So when I can quiet my heart, open it, then I can tune into my thought frequency. Then, quieting that, I can open the background of the mind that is awareness.

Vasily

Why not just cut right to it?

DW

Well, I have a recipe. That is limited.

Andrew

Can’t follow directions.

DW

But without a clue, you’re lost.

Andrew

Open mind. Follow teacher’s pointing-out without trying to second guess or decode it.

DWI’m not willing to do tantra. So I’m doing it the hard way.

Jenny

DW, repeat after me: “I release all martyr energies.”

I’m serious. That’s your mantra.

DW

If my heart were fixed, it would be easy.

Jenny

I release all martyr energies.

Andrew

Two paths. (1) Fix heart: the way to do that is tantra. (2) Direct path: follow the teacher’s pointing out without question.

Take your choice.

DW

OK, Jenny . . . “I release all martyr energies.”

Jenny

You know exactly what I mean. You are indulging in the perverse pleasure of punishing yourself.

You deserve to awaken. You deserve a long happy life full of love.

Now, Vasily, my dear. . . .

DW

“I release all martyr energies.”

“I release all martyr energies.”

“I release all martyr energies.”

“I release all martyr energies.”

I’m cool with it.

Vasily

Okay, Jenny, please continue. I don’t want to keep you too late.

Jenny

Vasily, when you and I got stream entry at around the same time and met, what was and still is super interesting to me is that you said, and I felt myself, that SE brought with it a persistent feeling of j4.j5, the felt boundless space aspect, in everyday life.

Now, most practitioners apparently don’t get that “package deal” at stream entry.

My hypothesis is that people who get the spaciousness early, at SE as defined by MCTB, will move very quickly to fourth path attainment when exposed to decent instructions.

So, although we cannot be sure about others’ attainments, I am convinced that you and I had similar SE outcomes. And I’m inclined to believe you now, somehow, have gotten luminosity. This impression is not just because of your words, but also because of another level on which I’m feeling into you.

So what I would advise you to do next is this:

Get some conceptual/intellectual understanding of basic Dzogchen terminology—chiefly, rigpa, kunzhi, and tsal. I recommend starting with Tenzin Wangyal’s book The Wonders of the Natural Mind.

Then read the post about luminosity versus rigpa. Learn, conceptually, the difference between luminosity and rigpa from that.

Note that Mahamudra is essentially identical to Dzogchen’s first of two paths: Trekchöd. So do your damnedest to scrape together the dough and time to sit a weeklong Mahamudra retreat next summer. Mahamudra has more structure to it than Dzogchen Trekchöd. So it will be more “pragmatic” in flavor. It is very, very precise and structured.

Now, then, during another talk, we can address taking the mind perspective as opposed to the event perspective. That’s step 1 for you. If you have luminosity, you actually already know what this is. But what I want to see is whether the mind perspective is stable, or whether you can flip back and forth. The answer to that will suggest Step 2.

I love you all. Good night.

Pragmatic Dharma Movement Manifesto 

Under the moniker Pragmatic Dharma, a movement has emerged in the West since the early 2000s to evolve the Buddha-dharma in alignment with American Pragmatism. American Pragmatism, the quintessentially American philosophical movement dating back to the the late nineteenth century, holds that the truth and meaning of any idea is solely a function of its practical outcomes.

The historical Buddha of our Degenerate Age, Siddhārtha Gautama, in teaching not abstract ontology or epistemology, but human “suffering and the end of suffering,” was a model pragmatist. He was concerned foremost with experiential results that make a difference to our human lives. With the historical Buddha as our model, then, our movement proclaims the following emphases:

Laity empowerment. Contemporary western laypersons with busy lives can and do awaken in this lifetime.

Goal-based practice. Awakening depends on goals codified as a map of expected progressive attainments.

Diligence. Attainment requires daily meditation practice—not the following:

– specific socioreligious trappings

– aspirations to merit awakening in some future life

– other untested traditional dogma

Eclecticism. Efficient and effective practitioners mine an array of traditions for practice methods.

Innovation. Skillful practitioners reality-test maps and methods to assess worth and limitations, and then innovate improvements.

Scientific tooling. Western sciences and technology are important adjuncts to personal reality-testing.

Grassroots sanghas. Contemporary western practitioners benefit from open peer-to-peer discussion of attainments.

Table 1 contrasts the emphases of traditional Buddhism with those of Pragmatic Dharma.

Table 1. Comparison of Traditionalism with Pragmatic Dharma 

Note: Since the time I first drafted this table, my views have been modified in some respects by experiences in my own practice and by encounters with certain others. First, although reality-tested maps and methods are sufficient for traversing early path terrain, transmission is a very real phenomenon that one who has some opening can feel as it is taking place. It will speed and deepen results, especially at the high end of the path, and is therefore pragmatic. Secondly, I now understand the necessity for terma and other secret teachings. Currently, this planet is spiritually lost. There are false teachers everywhere, sociopaths and those with other serious personality disorders. These people prey on practitioners with realization in order to co-opt the teachings and turn a profit, if not commit outright abuse. They all commit abuse at least in that they are not trained and lack realization, and therefore move off ignorant greed and pervert the teachings. Aside from questions of these charlatans, certain esoteric practices, if broadcast, would confuse, sidetrack, and sometimes even destroy earnest practitioners who are not ready for them—meaning the vast majority of practitioners. For those who are ready for these practices, it is also best and actually part of the practice to keep silent, Secrecy protects such practitioners from their own residual central narcissism, as well as prying attention from others. These teachings are sacred and are to be respected as the deepest intelligence of reality, a grace grown into and not a commodity to bandy about the marketplace. 

The Importance of  Journaling to Practice and as Practice

Dear K—

Regarding your stated difficulty in keeping a practice journal because you feel it reifies practice—in the dharma book I’m writing, I urge practitioners to keep a practice journal even when they don’t feel like writing. Daniel Ingram told me to keep a journal as soon as I met him, that it would be important, and he was right.

I’ve been able to discern and therefore tweak the course of my practice skillfully because I could see larger insight “trends” emerging in and from practice sessions recorded in my journals across months and years.

In addition, often in specific formal practice sessions I will have direct insight—see—but until I am able to transmit that to the page or to others and say, I don’t sense that I have the fruit: wisdom. In fact, often it has been the saying that led in formal practice to the next seeing.  From the perspective of the causal model, I see insight leading to wisdom, and wisdom leading to next insight.

Yes, I agree that it is important to be spontaneously in the moment during formal practice, not conceptualize, let go, and so forth, but then it is important to contemplate what that seeing brings up and forth in your everyday life and in planning your next formal practice.

What do I mean by “planning” next practice? I am thinking mostly about my earlier Theravadin-stage practices, when I was doing vipassana applying the Three Characteristics across Six Sense Spheres, how one characteristic or sense sphere would entail insight suggesting the next sense sphere or characteristic to emphasize in a formal practice session.

But even now—if something is coming up over calendar time as a pattern I wasn’t seeing clearly into before, that can suggest a practice emphasis for me to pursue. Last night offers an example.

Last night I stayed up practicing some esoteric stuff until 5 a.m. I’m now off Cymbalta and past the wicked withdrawal syndrome, and am lately confronting this twinge of anxiety I feel as times, especially before falling asleep. I have a history of phobias around traveling in cars and airplanes, and around everything Kerry in general. Kerry was planning to drive to Charlotte today, and I tend to be especially anxious when he is driving out of town. 

During my esoteric practices, I was tuning in to that “Kerry traveling” anxiety. I had sudden insight into my attachment to Kerry as keen suffering. I saw exactly why my protective love for him is suffering. It is a love that is particularized to him as special beyond everyone else on earth. I contemplated and felt in my heart center and solar plexus how I could not bear the feeling of any harm coming to him. I felt fear because family members of a couple of friends have recently suddenly died, including a son Kerry’s age who was killed in a car accident. This overprotection I feel for Kerry is extreme suffering.

Yesterday, too, one of my authors wrote me on Skype: “To be a mother is to know suffering.” I had stared at that sentence for a long while. This author narrowly escaped being a casualty last week in the Manchester attack that killed so many innocent children. He was telling me he is afraid for his son, who is Kerry’s age and traveling to Berlin.

So last night after contemplating and seeing all this, I saw this tiny booklet I have on daily purification from back when I was practicing in the Gelugpa tradition. Seeing that caused me to read it for the first time in a long time and to remember that phrase “mother sentient beings” and how in Tibetan Buddhism a mother’s love is the template and intensity standard for universal love. The book mentions, in particular, Vajrasattva’s “unbearable compassion.” That is what I feel for my child, particularly when he is confused or blind: unbearable compassion.

I suddenly began to see clearly how to end this surviving anxious preoccupation that is my pet locus of suffering. I saw that expanding that love I have for Kerry to all beings would be to dissolve a boundary that is currently still my identity-view based on super-special attachment and therefore suffering.

Furthermore, I understood the urgency of purification anew, because I understood that I have to extend that love to myself to release guilt, which is the backward-looking form of worry. My worry over Kerry comes from my believing Little Jenny deserves punishment and is unworthy of love. This insight led me to contemplate reviving some practices JC suggested to me for healing Little Jenny, who was abandoned by her parents and who therefore keenly feels hyper-vigilance against losing more family and being banished by peers.

Like Atiśa, who wrote it, I did that purification practice in that little book on the spot, to forgive myself for wrongs I’ve done others, for my shortcomings in being of service. Although I’m normally not one to take vows, I suddenly vowed to the depth of my being to stay. I vowed to stay here until everyone knows the joy of liberation. As I journal my practice over weeks and months, I’ll see what wisdom results from renewed practice emphasis on attachment-as-suffering and on purification as release. Then I’ll see what boundary remains and deal with that. This is all I mean by “planning” practice.

I believe that practice, like any project, should be guided by discernment. Setting intention is a formal part of meditation practice, after all.. That means that practice goals and documentation of which methods lead to which results is important, perhaps even critical. It may not be Zen or Dzogchen of me to say so, but I do say so even while currently being a Dzogchen practitioner. Structure is a tool. The causal model is a tool. As each rung is attained and integrated, you can throw off that bit of scaffolding as just artificial scaffolding, finally just abiding in the natural state (Trekchö). But my view is that abandoning the causal model from the beginning, or even in the middle of the path, is almost always disastrous, or at least unnecessarily inefficient.

People often mistakenly believe that one must first think in order to write. But practiced writers actually write in order to discover what they have seen and think. Thought is not an enemy to be permanently shut down, but to be integrated into the natural state. We are thinking, feeling creatures, after all. Back decades ago when my husband invited others to his Native American–style sweat lodges in North Florida, everyone would take off their clothes, sit in the pitch dark, sweat until there was no felt resistance, and then take turns speaking from the heart. Truth of experience is what matters, you see, however it unfolds, however “its” intention both reflects and informs “ours,” eventually merging.

So my advice is to just write, just as you speak truth from the heart during our retreats. Open your heart and be a hollow conduit for whatever speech-stream flows forth—without planning, organizing, or editing as it flows. Automaticity of writing without identity-investment in the result is in itself profound practice.

Love,

Jenny