What’s Wrong with Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: A Living List
I’ve decided to begin a “living” list of all that Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, including the version I myself worked on with Dan (MCTB2), has gotten so terribly wrong. I’m writing here as someone who actually attained what Dan incorrectly characterizes in a recent interview as having “taken awakening as far as it can go.” And since then I’ve attained significantly more, as confirmed by my highly qualified personal teacher.
I will try to confine my refutations of MCTB2 to in the list proper, which begins after all the intervening paragraphs to MCTB2(J). However, you may as well expect spillover; I certainly do. To the end of confining my list to this topic, I will first dispense with Ingram himself and his discussion board.
Daniel Ingram as No-Arahat
Daniel has some issues that disqualify him from even his own watered-down description of requirements for being an arahat.. The term arahat has a specific history dating back to the suttas and early commentaries, and means saint. Dan Ingram is no saint. My personal voluminous correspondence with him substantiates what I’m here only obliquely going to summarize.
Daniel has carefully crafted a false public self that you will see, if you watch him closely, is incongruous in affect with the situations and contexts in which he finds himself (or, rather, fails to “find himself”). He is one way in public, relying on morally codified virtue-signaling, while being a very different person behind the scenes. He is, in short, a person with an unusually high degree of fear, fear that stems from psychic wounds he suffered in childhood, which I will not detail or discuss here or anywhere. I will say this: Daniel’s constitutional fear is of affect, intimacy, and vulnerability. His gruff manner is to shore up defenses against these experiences that cause him deep suffering. These defense mechanisms exist to fend off what triggers his own reactivity, but his blind spot is that he doesn’t acknowledge that those defense mechanisms are themselves calcified patterns of reactivity. They cause him continual suffering, and they cause those around him who care about him suffering. I was one of those people.
How did I come by the ugly behind-the-scenes exposures to the real, frightened, vulnerable, and compensatorily ill-tempered Daniel? By getting as close to him as anyone in his so-called community ever has or likely ever will. I was his friend, editor, site advisor, and confidant for almost a year. He was my mentor and helped me with my practice with frequency and depth. I have thousands of in-depth, lengthy email exchanges with him in my files. He told me things about himself that he stated he never conveyed even to his estranged best friend of several decades, Kenneth Folk. That’s how.
Although much, or most, of the faulty theory and advice in MCTB stems directly from Ingram’s patterns of reactivity (dukkhas) and defense mechanisms, I won’t write beyond what is necessary to clarify, or hint at, the nature of the problems in MCTB2. What I don’t say is in order to hold space for Daniel personally and spiritually. For I believe that he can go further up the path and reach buddhahood. I believe he will. I believe he will figure out what he lacks and find the resources he needs to address that lack. Almost every time that I sit, when I call the Third Guests into my mandala, I call him. May he find his way. May he reach true enlightenment in this lifetime and continue to help others do the same.
The Dharma Overground: A Dharma Wasteland
Initially, I thought to take on the Dharma Overground and its cultural sickness in my list, but why? I can dispense with that discussion board summarily: It is poorly run, ineptly and nuttily “moderated,” participated in by about 99% males only, and reinforces a disturbingly masculinist (anti-feminist) culture that not only alienates and silences real women, but infects the membership against the feminine principle that is so critically necessary for gaining the higher realizations.
Daniel Ingram is directly responsible for failure to clean up the DhO as he many times promised me he would. But because one of his habit patterns with me was breaking promises, this failure is not exactly incongruous with the rest. If you are a woman, please don’t subject yourself to what goes unchecked at this site.
As if this weren’t enough to wreck the DhO as a legitimate vehicle for buddhadharma and communion, then its content ought to be. The site is overrun with men, or boys, mostly immature, who identify with Ingram for his false militaristic “male locker room” machismo rather than for Ingram’s actually rather traditional engagement with Buddhist practice and maps. In other words, the bulk of the active membership lacks knowledge of even basic Buddhist theory and doctrine. In fact, a cavalier disregard for actual knowledge pervades the DhO, a culture that my friend DreamWalker, one of the moderators that I asked Daniel to assign to that role, admits is “like a noisy college bar.” Is this where you want to discover how to awaken? Really?
Where are the members with high attainments for inspiration and sound guidance? Where are those who can enjoin the young ones to get a clue by cracking a dharma book? Other than a few Pali-heads who post there during rare spurts, the site is the blind leading the blind. Earnest practitioners who have honest realization are largely absent, many apparently having fled after the Second Schism, when the ridiculous cult of so-called Actual Freedom ran its course through the “community.” (By the way, Daniel has now taken down the Actual Freedom audios he recorded with Tarin, audios in which he renounced MCTB1, saying he was not really “done” with his awakening.) I agree that practice needs to be pragmatic, but pragmatism in the dark leads to communally reinforced endarkenment, not enlightenment.
If you aspire to enlightenment yet spend much of your time on the Dharma Overground instead of reading or listening to a gazillion better resources, actual authorities, or instead of following a qualified teacher’s direct practice instructions, then I daresay you have the wrong end of the enlightenment stick. My advice? Seriously contemplate how you spend your precious short lifetime available for true dharmic theory and actual rigorous and diligent practice.
And if you are one of the multitude there playing guru to others, then consider salubrious acknowledgment of the psychological stuff that thus compels your role-playing rather than adherence to time- and student-tested precision. Consider the harm you do others by misleading them out of a base of ignorance rather than personal realization. The DhO exists primarily for rigor avoidance and narcissistic supply. Check in with yourself. Be honest with yourself. And when you see that this is so, construct a better project plan, for life is short, death is certain, and the time of death is most uncertain. Practice discernment.
Uses and Limitations of MCTB
Why is this post in the Book section of my site? Because much of what I list here as shortcomings and outright erroneous, ignorant modeling in MCTB2 will be corrected in my own book. So this list informs my research agenda.
There is much that is helpful in MCTB2. Specifically, Ingram offers the best, most phenomenologically detailed map of the Theravadin Progress of Insight stages in the world, hands down. Ingram gives some helpful advice for navigating these stages and attaining first path, stream entry. You can use the same basic strategies to gain second path, which is usually a comparatively short path.
Beyond MCTB second path however, MCTB2 cannot help you, and the DhO damned sure can’t. This is why so many people are stuck at the second path in that virtual community, including many who honestly believe they have MCTB fourth path but don’t.
In 2015 Daniel Ingram admitted on a Skype video call with me, DreamWalker, Steph S., and Vasily that he didn’t know how he himself got MCTB fourth path. I asked him, “You don’t know how you got fourth path, do you?” And he answered, “No, I really don’t.” I have some retrospective theories of how, theories based on my hearing his descriptions many times, reading his draft memoir closely and repeatedly, and learning much additional theory and practice from my current teacher. But the fact remains that Ingram himself admitted to us all that he hasn’t a clue. Ingram is not a dharma teacher; he is an emergency physician. He lacks access to repeatable results based on higher maps for his population. Daniel also stated to me in writing that he really doesn’t know the Indo-Tibetan Essence tradition maps. Apparently, he hasn’t attempted to know them, either.
Despite Ingram’s admitted cluelessness in this small Dharma Underground setting, he elsewhere wrote to me, his former collaborator on MCTB2, that he was putting out the new edition of that Book to “help those stuck in the middle paths, especially them.” In other words, he claimed that MCTB2 would offer guidance to attainment of fourth path, even while he admitted to the Dharma Underground coterie that he had no idea how even he himself got fourth path. Moreover, Daniel himself wrote an email to me insisting that “there are no path-specific practices.” Basically, he advocates just repeating what you did in for first path over and over again. Actually, there are plenty of stage-specific goals and practices, and that is largely what my own work will provide.
So how best to use MCTB2 when it comes out? Read Parts 1 and 2 (if they resemble what he and I worked on together, which is a big “if”). But forget his “revised four-path model” and his simple model. Those models are thin, at best, with nearly zero specifics. And realize that the advice given in Parts 1 and 2 will get you to second path and that is about it. After that point, it is best to turn to Indo-Tibetan Essence Traditions, particularly Essence Mahamudra.
So here begins my list, which I will keep amending as inspiration and remembered facts emerge over calendar time. As time goes by since I left Daniel, I move further away from defining what my book will contribute by what his lacks. Nonetheless, life’s expensive lessons are often the best organizing principles. So it goes, and here I go.
1. The terms arahat and anagami have been gutted.
Why cling to these status signals? What obscurations are you short-cutting, bypassing, and denying by doing so and needing to do so? These terms have a specific history beginning thousands of years ago. The are closely associated with the Ten-Fetters model of release and enlightenment espoused by traditional Theravada. Daniel took these terms and gutted them of their main import: the ending of all emotional reactivity and the perfection of compassionate conduct. Yet he appropriated the terms to mere changes in sensory perception. If you are not a saint, then please drop the pretense of announcing that you are one by adopting these appellations. And if you are in fact a saint, with no suffering and with completely nondefective conduct, then the sign of that will be humility and service to others, not Ingram-style grandiosity.
2. “Agencylessness” is not part of fourth path, let alone third path.
At buddhahood, one sees that there is absolutely no causality. Causality is the Big Lie, according to Dzogchen doctrine and theory. That means, when the causal model is seen through, so is karma. In second path I had profound insight into the nature of agency, and by that I mean not just my own agency but causality, the arrow of time.
Agency is causal by definition. The causal model works until one realizes the Emptiness of Time. It is philosophically incongruous to hold to a causal model of reality while saying that own-agency has been completely seen through. Yet this is what Daniel does in his list of criteria for MCTB fourth path, which he claims is as far as enlightenment goes for anyone, not just for himself.
One thing doesn’t lead to another if time is truly empty of own-nature, logically speaking. So positing your own lack of agency while maintaining that someone or something else is directing manifestation via “causality” indicates lack of realization of Emptiness of Time. You may well have insight into what still needs to happen for agency to collapse, for time to synchronize with itself, but so long as you have any sense of having personal intentions and decisive actions, you don’t have realization of philosophically pure no-agency.
Neither does Daniel. As mentioned, Daniel is one of the most frightened, defensive, and controlling people I have ever known. He has a significant level of awakening and much contribution toward helping others gain the same. But no one as obsessed with own-will-to-power magick as he can have shed belief in his own agency. In fact, if you read Daniel’s criteria for third path closely, then you will see that he says agencylessness isn’t “always in the forefront.” That means, by Daniel’s own admission, the sense of agencylessness he places at third path is incomplete. He is honest about at least that much.
At stream entry, or early on the third path at the latest, one should have and be able to describe profound correction of misperception in terms of the senses. These changes are so obvious and dramatic that you can readily describe them for others. After that level of attainment, Daniel is correct in placing luminosity, the taste of rigpa, at attainment of third path. He is mistaken about placing agencylessness there, though. That doesn’t mean he lacks insight into agency or that you do. It just means that it isn’t a done deal until causality itself is seen through, meaning opening of the Fourth Time, all-at-once-ness, which happens at the culmination of the Fourth Vision of Togal. It is impossible before that moment.
There is nothing subtle or uncertain about attainment of MCTB Fourth Path. If the center has dropped out permanently, then that is indeed attainment of fourth path, and it has profound consequences for how you experience via bodily, visual, and auditory sense spheres. Again, these corrections of former sensory misperception are readily described by those who have fourth path. And they are attained before and enable later true “agencylessness.”
When practitioners come consult me and state only that they now “understand” through everyday perception that they are not an agent, not-self, yet they cannot describe any permanent changes to sensory perception itself, then I’m skeptical. In the domain of philosophical inquiry, agency means merely the ability to decide to do something, to take one action over another deliberately. That is the definition.
Now, if one is practicing western magick, then one is indulging in the delusion of agency by such definition. One believes that one can direct a personally desired outcome over other possible outcomes by means of his own power, yes? That belief and sense of the efficacy of will is philosophically adequate to fulfill agency. If Daniel had no sense of agency, he would lay down his entire expensive collection of custom ACME magick wands and do something less childish with his remaining sense of linear time. . . .
I don’t know what people mean by “agencylessness,” and I don’t think they do either. Without phenomenological description, it sounds like an understanding that is conceptual, philosophical. But If you can intend, plan, choose, and take action, then you meet the academic philosophical definition of an “agent.”
If there is still causality, an arrow of time, then who or what is shooting that arrow, so to speak? What decider-planner has taken over your job of making everything unfold causally? Because causality is linear. It is this-leads-necessarily-to-that. What doer intelligence is driving this decision-tree of forward consequence, of determinate directionality?
I ask because Daniel lists as fourth-path criteria both direct perception of one’s own agencylessness and direct perception of unfolding of reality as lawfully causal. By contrast, Dzogchen view is of spontaneous, noncausal reality, “all-at-once-ness.” The ultimate realization is that “causality is the big lie.”
One may begin to let go of delusions of personal control by mid-second path. But full realization of emptiness is not until the culmination of the third Togal vision, which is far beyond MCTB fourth path. True freedom from the delusion of agency is at Buddhahood and not a moment beforehand. Delusional self-agency is folded into freedom from time itself. Agency and causality are synonyms, in this ultimate sense, not antonyms. It therefore makes no sense to say your agency has ended but another one has taken over the God job. That is to make the field a residual entity, a remainder.
No-self applies to both yourself and all phenomena in a true emptiness model. Buddhahood is realization that karma, all of it, is not the ultimate truth. The ultimate faith is nothing to purify. The entire causal model at that realization implodes in a cessation event. Meantime, so long as you are perceiving causality, there is delusion to uproot.
The term “agencylessness” is not one I’ll be using in my book. It is a strange coinage that causes confusion from the perspectives of both theory and phenonomenologically accurate attainment description.
TBC. . . .