Quibbling Over the Three Doors Section: To Daniel

Dear Daniel,

You’ve written much in this and especially the other email that I don’t think you’ve ever published out before. Much of it clarifies crucial matters for me and, I feel, your readers. Some of it, in clarifying those matters, does cause, at least in me, a painful increase in practice “performance anxiety” or feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, although I am also probably in Misery or DFD currently and blowing this feeling up out of all semblance of proportion.

DW has noticed that I oscillate wildly between intense faith and intense hopelessness lately. Primal frustration and intense faith seem to be steadily melding into each other, blending, which is an odd thing to say but somehow true.

I guess I’m in this funky part of the path that is continually messing with my sense of control and making me want to “quit” or just pray to the universe to help me, or just to go to the gompa and do 75 prostrations, something physically exhausting, something magickal, some transfer of pain to the physical so that it will leave my heart and mind alone, leave me the fuck alone, some extreme surrender, some desire to be saved through absorption into the Other, some refuge that I have to find somewhere, someone or something! So I’ve extreme aversion to all this suffering that now consists solely of “not being able to get enlightened” so as to end this Suffering!

It is silly, I realize, to feel this way. But, you know, Daniel, it seems to be Dharma, or at least dharma. I can’t fight what compels me to look straight at it. Yes, I’ve attained some insight quickly after putting in little time at technically effective practice. There have been these mortifying little ups and downs called cycles—but until lately there was an overall sense of “progress” and faith, ease and happiness.

Now the feeling-tone at a high level is different: I’m simply out of control. I’m sick to death of the f’n cycles. I feel like the jhanas have become a kind of drug I come home to shoot up, which is why I’m leaving them alone, letting them manifest by themselves. I don’t feel up to the task of attaining anything more in the way of insight or wisdom. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I can’t retreat or do daily practice as much as I’d like or need to. I’m not as smart as you. I’m not as tough as you. I’m not young as you were. I’m old. I’m tired, I’m dysregulated. I’m running out of time. The more I understand, the trickier the mystery becomes. I’m done with effort. I surrender. I just want to be done. I want to leave the Path behind. I want to stop comparing this with that.

And yet . . .  I told Bill Finch a shorter version of all this. He told me how, oddly, when he attained fourth path, he endured a weird kind of grieving at the loss of the mystery, the Path, and his identity as a good Buddhist. He said to me, “You know, Jenny, here is what it is to get fourth path: You have to be willing to die.”

I can’t fight what compels me to look at it and and acknowledge it now as my path. And what compels direction of my current gaze is that a huge phase in my life is coming to an end, a definitive close. Almost every night, it is literally “in the cards” I read. I’m moving on. I’m going to go in a different direction. My path is about to change. Lineage is about to change.

In fact, the transition is already underway: I don’t “practice insight.” I am concerned much of the time now with a return to the World, to the moral considerations, to the relative, to mundane and physical cycles, to the non-dharma friends and family I’ve been neglecting for many months, to physical exercise, sunshine, mango smoothies, daylily gardens, and lush green beauty. Everything is poetry, simplicity, devotion, and prayer. Nothing is calculus or imaginary numbers. When I see the world without calculus, the only equation is that everything is more vivid for being ghostly; everything is now relieving for being at long last luminous. There is something in me that needs to stop this seeking. There is something in me that needs to stop needing even to stop seeking. There is something in me that needs to stop.

So I’m turned away from you and the Dharma. I’m looking at life and the world. This is a regrouping, a hiatus, an undertow that is gathering polar force.

Although I see that there is all this impressive technical mastery you achieved—surely, there are other paths to nondual awakening than through those precious Six Doors I cannot see. For we are already awake merely for the stepping into that realization, Door or no Door. There have to be other thresholds or I’m simply doomed: There is nothing special or different about me. I’m just a middle-aged mom. Very few make it to the fourth path attainment. I gaze all around me in bewilderment at how “not done” and “not satisfied” much more accomplished and wise practitioners seem to be after many years. Do I have in me the grit you had in you in the 1990s? No. I’m not constructed that way. Few people are.

So I can’t do it, Daniel. I cannot see what I cannot see, and my magick/resolutions seem to be yet another closed door. Powers open sometimes, but they are always uncultivated surprises.

Maybe I could gain technical mastery if you were my teacher and I were there with you in person. Because relationship is in fact a door for me, or that unspeakable bridge that we buried. But that is, of course, out of the question this lifetime, and you aren’t coming back for any additional lifetimes, are you? There is your book, but when I read of the Six Doors and even the Dependent Origination thing I did see one single time, the book leaves me and perhaps other similarly situated middle-path seekers withering in the formidably tall shadow of high standards and rare attainments.

Nonetheless, my editing this book has constituted your teaching me, even though this activity doesn’t meet your high-standard definition of what teaching is, or Teacher is. At times, like now, the lessons have been plenty painful, too, mainly owing to my emotionally and mentally processing feeling disowned as a “student.” But, as Alan Chapman says, transmission and teaching has more to do with the intent of the student than it does with that of the teacher. So disown me as you have and will, the choice is not completely yours. And so goes the quote, apropos of my saying so: “Choose your teacher carefully, for this person will be your executioner.”

Maybe mahamudra and JC will be my way forward. Maybe magick will be. Whatever it is, I think it won’t be MCTB2 or Ingramesque proficiency, let alone mastery. It will be found in human relationship, in the heart, not in technical or “phenomenological” details.

You write equations on the whiteboard of my dreams for me, but I don’t understand your notation or the language you speak to parse them out for me. So the figures fly off, and the whiteboard explodes. I’m left alone, floating toward cold evaporate nothing in a white blinding fog.

In a different dream, I’m before an altar that is draped in white satin. I am being told by a teacher or a priest on the other side of the altar to drink down a crystal chalice overflowing with tears. I do as I’m told, and as I empty it of the last salty drop, the whole dream explodes into a firework fallout of white orchid petals.

Notation or fragrance? Far-flung black runes, or rain of white petals?

A rejection is underway. I don’t choose its necessity. I fall in step, somehow onward although directionless through the fog.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

If almost no one who has Fruitions sees the Three Doors, seeing them is not actually a frequent or reliable diagnostic tool for Fruition, is it? So this item doesn’t seem to answer to my question about purpose of this section in the book, meaning audience-centered purpose.

Is ability to see these Doors a direct result of “striving” and gritting teeth for higher standards, really? Didn’t you say you saw one very clearly at mere stream entry? How was that clarity because your striving was better than my striving? How long did you practice to get stream entry? It took me 200 hours with no retreats. Couldn’t I just as easily say that was because my striving and standards were higher than yours? You see the problem here, don’t you? Association doesn’t argue causation.

Is not seeing them a result of having low standards, but not so low that one doesn’t get paths in short order? I don’t fully understand the connection you seem to assume.

For example, say another 10 years goes by and I still can’t experience one of the Doors clearly. Is this failing my fault? Not hardcore enough? Slacker, perhaps? Am I mentally imprecise? And if I am imprecise, is that because I’m not taking your book seriously enough? Careless, perhaps? Hair not on fire? Or is it that I need to hire a teacher? Or is it that the effort I bring is just somehow, some way, the wrong kind?

Realize that you are talking to someone who spent 10 years studying 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, to earn a master’s and PhD with distinction from UNC-Chapel Hill, yet it remains probable, doesn’t it, that I’ll never see these Doors. For whatever reason, my fruitions are not clear although the stream entry one was astounding.

Be careful that you actually mean the implications your statements offer.

I’ve resolved and resolved, and I get insight, but I don’t get blowaway surefire Fruitions, generally, let alone Three Doors or a repeat performance of that restart.

I guess I need to figure out how to resolve better? Or will that not work so much as just persisting in resolving? It is pretty hard to keep resolving and resolving and resolving for reality to show itself when day after day it does not, at least not in the ways you say are crucial. Belief wanes after a while.

You haven’t at all made a case to me that striving and high standards had anything to do with your seeing the Three Doors from stream entry on. Again, I could argue that my standard and efforts were better than yours because I got SE without retreat time and with only 200 sitting hours in daily life (and my sits were only 30 minutes per day). You seem to be making unfounded, unqualified, unrestrained blanket assumptions. Confounding factors are everywhere. Shouldn’t you account for that and not assume?

By the way, this category of presumption is what makes the DhO like a men’s locker room. Have you noticed that all three women down in the DhU immediately started posting practice journals there that they would not in the more intimidating testosterone-laced environment of the DhO? I think you need to think about how your presumptions affect groups of people who are conditioned by our society to generally back down from the competitiveness that these kinds of assumptions and assertions of superior effort and standards foster.

Read what I’ve just written again about how women may be largely written out of the picture by where you draw that bright line, as evidenced by three women’s journals in the DhU where none of these women would expose themselves this way on the DhO and haven’t.

The DhO is rampant with boastful boys and men who swagger about and assume that they have this and that ability and attainment, or that any accidental result is a direct consequence of their superior effort. MCTB breeds this culture and entrenches that divide that implies to girls that girls cannot get enlightened. That divide originates with the masculinist bent of your book, the presumptions that effort and measuring sticks fully explain success, and the double standards and blindness you exhibit to other explanations for successes. For example, your blindness to my arguable superiority to you because it took me only 200 hours in daily life to get stream entry. But seriously, wouldn’t it be silly of me to actually believe that, much less publish that as a standard? Seems silly for a woman to believe it, but you are doing a parallel thing much of the time. You have no evidence that you see the Three Doors emphatically because your efforts and standards are superior to those made and held by people who can’t see the Doors.

This is not to say that you are consciously excluding women, or any other groups, or that women can’t achieve high standards. What I’m saying is more fundamental (patriarchy) than that: I’m talking about the way men, including you, in our culture have this tendency to take credit for lucky happenstance or other confounding factors. They tend to move off the assumption that, if a good thing happened, then they deserve the credit for it. They did it!

How do you know that I didn’t get stream entry so fast because motherhood taught me to broaden my width of attention, to remain mindful, and to be patient? As Pawel wrote in the DhU, “Maybe motherhood was better for your practice than all Daniel’s retreat time was for his practice.” Pawel is making a point about your assumptions, about assumptions that the resources brawly young men bring to the Path are “better” higher standards than the often different resources women bring.

Women and girls in our society are relentlessly and insidiously trained from the get-go to read situations contextually and to not assert themselves or claim credit. You can’t undo this conditioning just by saying that MCTB doesn’t intend to exclude women. You have to adjust proactively. If you back up and look over my email, check out how many times I ask you a gentle rhetorical question rather than say outright, “I think you are wrong.” And I’ve a lot of feminist and post-feminist theory under my belt and am generally a high achiever. Still, I’m conditioned by our society to be intimidated by the assertions of men, by you, however presumptive the assertions may be. So, when you flatly declare “I draw that line where I do,” the presumptions codified in that line generally affect women differently than they do the swaggering braggarts on the DhO. Those braggarts are rewarded for being the way they are because MCTB models male-matching assumptions culturally. Women have no refuge there. I hope the irony that the DhU so far is a refuge for them and has more active women posters than the public DhO isn’t utterly lost on you.

There is indeed a publishable paper in this, and plenty of journals on women, patriarchy, and spirituality. Plenty to do for the Jenster!

Yes, others draw it elsewhere. So are you telling the women I refer to above, however unconsciously, to beat it? Given the cultural realities that none of us can change, don’t you have to make some kind of adjustments and receptive qualifications to your hard bright line when you reflect on the intimidation it may cause in some groups of people, such as women?

(Oops, look again at the question marks—women ask questions to avoid confrontation and assertion.)

Just your impression because you happened to be someone who sees the Doors? Your sample size appears to be 1, or 2 if you count Claudiu and discount the fact that he quit the practice, despite having this special insight that is presumed by you to be because of superior striving and standards.

Where are Claudiu’s strivings and high standards now?

I think you are assuming a lot, and when you do this, it intimidates people.

And you think this is a healthy obsession to transfer to your readership? Didn’t you just write a DhO post about attainment competitiveness as “dharma poison”? And didn’t I respond in the DhU with a post-feminist critique of your post? Yes, all that happened. It seems strangely recent, too.

Sometimes I can’t help but think our correspondence, carefully edited way down, would make an interesting postmodern dialogical dharma book, maybe more interesting than any book either you or I could write all alone.

Jenny

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