Reader’s Questions about MCTB and  The Mind Illuminated

Reader’s Question

Given your comments in the “Shady Enlightenment” post, do you still endorse MCTB as a good resource for practitioners? Would you supplement it with any other kind of practice?

Jenny’s Reply

Generally, yes. The specific answer to the question would depend, however, on the practitioner’s level of practice and goals. Moreover, the version that Dan Ingram and I worked together on is vastly superior to, and very different from, both the first edition and the draft second edition version preceding my working with him. Unfortunately for all, that superior version will never be published: Daniel has laid to waste the approximately 350 pages of painstaking work that took us nearly a year, in order to avoid giving me even an editorial acknowledgment. He claims that he has hired a copyeditor for pay to start from scratch. I expect that that version would be clearer and more complete than the first edition, although not the classic that our version would have been. He recently wrote me that he and the copyeditor (who remains nameless) will take their time, and it has already been more than a year with no Part II posted.

So if you cannot wait, then why not download the first edition from Daniel’s Integrated Daniel site? It is free, after all. But know that Daniel has in the forthcoming new edition made jhanas the upfront framework for both samatha and vipassana, which to my mind is a brilliant move that makes sense to me as a practitioner. He also isn’t advocating dry vipassana so much anymore, but, again, yoking things under and integrating with jhana.

What I got from MCTB that advanced my practice and proved critically important was Daniel’s elucidation of the Progress of Insight, which is unmatched. So, in my opinion, everyone should read and study that part of MCTB. Unfortunately (and this makes me wince in pain), we did so, so, so much brilliant work on enhancing that content for the second edition – it was much more thorough, clearer, and appended with many new technical reference tables by which practitioners could diagnose themselves and adjust practice accordingly. Sadly, no one will ever be able to use them.

I strongly disagree with Daniel’s model of enlightenment. What he calls revised fourth path he also claims is as far as awakening goes. Not true! For example Dzogchen begins where revised fourth path ends. Moreover, Daniel’s criteria for second and third path are vague and incomplete, largely because the four-path model itself breaks down quickly after “first path.” So my big caution to you is not to settle for MCTB fourth path, thinking that is “enlightenment.” Yes, it is a great attainment that reduces suffering by a staggering amount, but the heart and body, not just the mind, have to be liberated, too, and those require different vehicles that, so far, Daniel has been incapable of or simply closed to. He would need to first be honest with himself about where he is and isn’t, if not honest with the public, and then he would need to seek teachings that are largely secret.

For beginners, yes, MCTB’s Progress of Insight is essential knowledge. But after, say, second path, I would switch over to Indo-Tibetan Mahamudra to get MCTB third and fourth paths. Then I would switch to Dzogchen till Buddhahood. Those higher Completion Practices involve the feminine principle and a faith in naturalness that, if left out, can leave you stuck in a partial awakening from the head that neglects to liberate the body, the emotions, and ultimately the interconnected field of beings.

I’m writing my own pragmatic meditation manual that crosswalks maps from Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions and then simplifies all into a new western map that reconciles them and gives stage-specific practices in plain modern English. Because I work full-time, and because I want to do this work justice, I expect it to take some years to complete.

My recommendation is to avoid dry insight practice (fast noting, specifically) and to practice vipassana from a foundation of calm-staying (samatha). I also recommend that you check out Reggie Ray’s take on concentration practice and insight practice that involves the entire body. You can explore his Dharma Ocean: And Sounds True sells helpful audios for beginners. Reggie excels at somatic descent,, and here is the CD series of the same title: This body work serves people well from the beginning and all the way to Buddhahood.

I hope this advice proves helpful.

Reader’s Additional Comments

Thanks for the wonderful reply, Jenny. Although I’ve heard good things about MCTB, I actually follow a different book called The Mind Illuminated. It sounds similar to what you describe for your own book: samatha and then vipassana, in a new western map (but based on Asanga’s nine samatha stages), and drawing from Theravada, Vajrayana, and Mahayana. I’m still a novice (no jhana, no path), but so far I love it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Jenny’s Additional Comments on MCTB2

You are most welcome. I should add that one late version of Part 1 that Daniel and I worked on together is still out on his personal site as a PDF. This version has a few sections out of optimal order because we moved things around so many times that we lost track of some concept sequences. For example, I think we realized after posting it that the three forms of suffering and the three poisons (attraction, aversion, and ignorance – or, alternatively, greed, hatred, and delusion) needed to come before something else.

Nonetheless, this version is superior to the first edition. Part 2 of the second edition is much longer and the real “meat” of the book, and we were nearly finished with it in July 2015, but since then Daniel has decided to destroy all of our work and “start over again” with a copyeditor, a decision he made in order to avoid my receiving any public acknowledgment for more than 800 hours of my work.

Download this not-quite-final version of Part 1 while you can, for I expect it will soon vanish from the world, and I have zero confidence that a mere copyedit on Daniel’s orginal draft will come anywhere close to this clarity and quality:

Jenny on The Mind Illuminated and Sectarianism

I’m currently reading The Mind Illuminated (along with about 20 other dharma books, however). So far, it seems to be a fantastic introduction to meditation theory informing Asanga’s Elephant Path and concentration practice generally. I also appreciate how the authors begin to cross-map the Theravadin jhanas to this Tibetan Buddhist map; however, this cross-mapping is done, so far as I can see at this point, almost entirely by way of hedging footnotes about the jhanas. I plan to be much more radical and explicit in cross-mapping these separate traditions.

In Tibetan Buddhist traditions, you will be hard pressed to find a teacher who will tolerate even a mention of the word jhana. If you look at the full pictorial map of the Elephant Path, you will see at the very top, beyond the stage of equipoise, a practitioner ascending higher on a rainbow path and another practitioner descending on that rainbow path with the Flame of Insight held high in his right hand.

The idea here is that the ascending one is pursuing the jhanas, and the descending one has attained liberating insight. In other words, both insight meditation and jhanas, are considered to exist apart from the Elephant Path, where the Elephant Path first must be completed to make the mind serviceable for attainment of (1) liberating insight and (2) magickal powers (siddhis) via mastery of the hard jhanas.

I have found many Mahayana practitioners to be downright phobic and unreasonably condemnatory with regard to the jhanas, attributing to the practice of jhana “spiritual pride,” addiction to pleasure, invocation of the dark arts, and, at best, a hindrance to insight leading to liberation. In my experience, however, and in the experience of some other advanced practitioners I know, insight does in fact happen in the jhanas and because of the jhanas. Most of my insight came to me while I was deliberately in jhanas, particularly the formless realms. Rob Burbea’s new book, The Seeing That Frees, makes use of the jhanas for insight in much the same way I did on my own path – and he is a Nargarjuna man!

The truth is that there is a lot of nonsense and sectarian superstition in the Tibetan traditions, as well as a lot in the Theravadin traditions. The Tibetans sneer at the Theravadins as “Hinayana,” which is a pejorative term. And the Theravadins sneer at the Tibetans as though they were a cult based on black magick. So here we modern westerners are, stuck between traditions that are more interested in preserving their own socio-religious power and exclusivity than in cooperating in the service of liberating anyone. I’m not into this. And, for all the problems I have had with Dan Ingram, I still regard him as my first teacher and an important pioneer in getting us beyond these inherited limitations from a bygone and in many instances corrupt world that is foreign to us. Maybe I will end up with arrows in my back the way Daniel has. So be it.

A very high proportion of most translated Tibetan texts I’ve read seem designed primarily to encode secrecy and exclusivity so that the monastic power structure holds onto its power and remains the decider on which practitioners gain access to which decodings of the teachings and instructions to the practices. Although all the traditions have invaluable knowledge, we do not inhabit the Iron Age. This is no longer a time in which information dissemination is primarily by oral tradition. We have these convenient things called printing presses and Web services. We also have a populace that is literate and sufficiently mentally evolved for many to benefit from the higher teachings earlier than was the case in old Tibet.

This is in no way to say that I believe masterful teachers are dispensable. Those who have taught me could in no measure be replaced by books. And I do believe in the efficacy of transmission and being in the same magick circle on retreat with a truly great teacher.

That’s my little digression, and it will inform a purely western and modern/postmodern meditation manual that will be a kind of DIY modular kit that supplements what a live human teacher provides. I will cross-map traditions for reference, but I will then supplant the cross-map with a new integral map that prefers modern English terms.

So, with regard to The Mind Illuminated and the Elephant Path – I want to make more explicit than that book does the ways that insight practice (vipassana) actually erupts into concentration practice if you are doing concentration practice well at all. And, even more fundamentally, if you are concentrated, even if you are a jhana-disparaging Tibetan Buddhist, then you are necessary in jhana whether you want to be or not! Daniel has yoked even Burmese vipassana under jhanas in MCTB2, which is an important start, but Daniel lacks the Mahayana and Vajrayana theory and practice experience necessary to complete the job of creating a unified western map of awakening.

One weakness I’ve seen so far in The Mind Illuminated lies with its actual meditation exercises. For example, the reader is told to focus narrowly on the sensations of the breath at the nostrils. I’ve done this sort of practice and much more whole-body sorts of breath meditation. The latter are so far superior to the former that I myself would never teach the nostril focus to anyone ever, nor will it be in any book I write. MCTB2 is (or was) better at offering actual meditation instructions that are sound and effective than the Mind Illuminated. But even it is much more theory than practice, compared with what I’m planning.

This said, The Mind Illuminated is great so far and has excellent illustrations. You are right to start with concentration practice and to heed the theory presented. I would look to Reggie Ray or to Ajaan Lee’s Keeping the Breath in Mind (Method 2 only) for the actual meditations, though.

You can download the latter book, which was my sole practice for a year, here for free:

Keeping the Breath in Mind & Lessons in Samadhi, by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo. A fundamental Guidebook for Breath Meditation and Practicing the Jhanas.

Synchronicities Three

Today, three synchronicities.

Synchronicity 1: Mother’s Sight Lost and Found

Last night, as I slid into the hypnagogic state before sleep proper, clear vision and sound arose: My mother was seated at a desk, in profile, face a-light with the blue of a screen, and she was yelling, “Jenny, Jenny, I can’t see!” I bolted upright in my bed. I had the strangest sense of premonition. I laughed and thought, “Oh, Mama must be guilting me because I’ve not put her birthday card in the mail.” I had not spoken with her for weeks, but in the morning when I looked at my mobile phone I saw a series of messages from her. Worried, I called her immediately, and when she said “hello,” I said, “What? What’s wrong!” She said, “Well, first, how did you know something was wrong?” I sighed and told her the dream. She was amazed. She then said, “Very accurate; last night I wanted to reach you because I couldn’t see my email, and I need you to walk me through fixing the problem!” I was relieved that it was only email she couldn’t see.

Synchronicity 2: That White Cat Ghosted

During the morning, I worked from home before the big bay window in my golden kitchen. Soon after I was off the phone with my mother, the second Synchronicity 2 happened: Out of the corner of my right eye, out the bay window, I saw a big fluffy white cat bound from the upper deck to the lower. I jumped up and craned my neck to watch it bound from lower deck to yard. But instead, it had just vanished into thin air. Moreover, the gate on the top deck was locked. Was I seeing things? It sure didn’t seem so. I saw a white cat, like the one in two dreams now, the last being this past week and about Kurt’s not believing my visions!

Synchronicity 3: The Empath Aparna Beheld

After morning work, I went on campus to sit with my workplace sangha and eat lunch with them afterward. My friend Aparna, an empath, had returned from India, where she buried her father. She broke her toe in the airport upon landing in the United States. She had sought me out, buttonholing me into sitting across from her. She said, “Something is different since I last saw you, Jenny.” I said, “What is it, Aparna, tell me.” She said, “The storm in you has quieted completely.” I said, “Yes, that is right.” We talked about this weird “unknowing” quiet I’m in now, where I no longer react but I don’t yet know how to respond

I told her, in return, that she broke her toe in order to stop. She had to stay at home and feel her losses. The layup also broke a spell, in a sense, by which some greedy person she mentioned had moved into her open energy field and she was wrongly owning the greed as her own. I told her, “Aparna, don’t wish your gift/curse away; but do ground and transform the field of energy – you aren’t bound to be a victim if you do act.” She said, “I always gain insight in talking with you, so I knew we had to talk today.”

 Jhanas and Insight: Friendly Sparring with Pawel


After stream entry, says Daniel, one is basically in some manner of jhana if drawing breath.


Interesting =)


He and I are both aversive personality types. This means we don’t readily get into the intensely pleasurable states, like second, but prefer the higher refined states that are more neutral-feeling.


So I guess you won’t have anything against 4th path once you shut down half of your brain and rest of it finally “arrives.”


Instead I simply call on the jhana and immediately drop manipulation and just observe what happens.


Do you really “call” on jhana or are “jhana projectors” just getting active and casually start projecting jhanic qualities?


Um, the correct answer is B—”jhana projectors” causally start projecting jhanic qualities! Did I pass the test?

Seriously, though, yes, I know, but it was 4:30 in the morning, at which time I have Super Agency, linguistically speaking! You have indeed identified one area to try to see as more stuff that is “simply happening.” I’m quite attached to my jhanas, baby; I guess there is a reason that, in the fetters model, attachment to the jhanas is the last attachment to go!

It is funny because when I talked to Daniel by phone after path in February, he advised me to call up the jhanas, in order and out of order, and do all sorts of manipulative exercises with them, such as holding a jhana way past the point where I want to move to the next one and then suddenly “let go” into the next one to watch its factors bloom rapidly and therefore clearly. He said, “Your ability to call them up as you now can aids mastery, and mastery is good, although before, when they were sensed to be just “taking over,” you were more tuned into the no-self aspect.”

Lately, I’ve been “just sitting,” meaning I don’t call upon anything. I sit without agenda or expectation. They show up in this way, usually, more deeply, harder, than the other way, with a more intense, long afterglow. Now, however, I’m feeling like I maybe should be working on concentration per mahamudra manual in preparation for the mahamudra retreat July 24, as both Daniel and Bill advised that I strengthen concentration, although Daniel pointed out that “just sitting” doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not concentrated. I think Daniel is talking about moment-to-moment concentration, anyway, which this mahamudra is all about, from one perspective—the mindstream-of-events perspective (the other perspective is the awareness-itself perspective).

Some degree of insight is always going to show up in those jhanas.


Not that I pick on you, but what do you mean by “insight” in this context? You talk about it as it were some substance that was pouring up and filling some sort of path-cup. At least that is my impression. Could you clarify what do you mean by “insight”? For the sake of all living beings.


Sure, hahahaha! All I mean is that jhanas will be vipassana jhanas to some extent, not “pure” samatha jhanas. Daniel says that “at this point” doing pure samatha isn’t likely possible for me, although he invited me to run the experiment and see if I can do it. He said the experiment might be interesting.

When MCTB2 is posted, then it will be clearer what I’m talking about. Daniel has in MCTB2 made the jhanas, generically described, the entire framework for advanced meditation (both samatha and vipassana aspects). He states in MCTB2 that there is always some combination of samatha and vipassana—and vipassana will be quite obviously operative after stream entry, especially.

What do I mean by “vipassana”? Only that the Three Characteristics will show up in the concentration states, breaking “pure” samatha. Reality will show itself, its true nature, as it were, until even that “true nature” is undone and the Three Characteristics vanish for good.

The jhanas have furthered my insight rapidly because they are like little laboratories in which many specific variables are held at bay, or turned away from, which makes what’s left, the isolated variable, easier to see into, to investigate. I’ve had major insight in the Realm of Nothingness, for example, that I think would have taken a lot more time to come across without my having that attainment to Nothingness.

For example, why, when I’m feeling super agencyless do I also have such intense j4.j5 that I barely feel my body?


“Super agencyless”—I do not have that one yet, just normal plain old agencylessness. =(


Perhaps you need to try harder to not try harder!

All I meant was that I was aware of it most of the day, but, yes, there is no “degree” of agencylessness. That wouldn’t make sense. By the way, I’m finding that if I pay attention to whether or not there is agency, I am shifted into being aware directly that there is no agency. Should I be trying, Pawel, to tune into that all day? I mean, I don’t understand from Daniel, how “constantly” screaming obvious the agencylessness is supposed to be. He states in one of his DhO postings listing criteria for 4th path that it “isn’t always in the forefront of attention.”

Does an arahat have a “forefront,” by the way?

In the new criteria for 3rd path, by contrast, he states that agencylessness should be the dominant experience the vast majority of the time. Why the discrepancy?

I need to remember to ask him about this, but I’m trying to stop bugging him, for he has 100 hours of ER shifts to do in eight days.


Why agencylessness and not feeling body would be linked specifically to j4.j5? Body image projection does not have anything to do with “infinite space,” which is just another projection separate from projection of bodies. Have you tried to tweak this body sensation independently of jhanas as its own thing and then deepen it?


First, there is no logical reason that I can think of for why agencylessness would be linked specifically to j4.j5. I’ve just noticed that I tend to be in a pretty strong j4.j5 when I notice a sense of agencylessness as experience. As for not feeling my body, that is part of the definition of Boundless Space as a jhana: No body. It applies to j6 and j7, as well.

No, I haven’t tried that. I can’t do anything “independently of jhanas,” for they are always running, per Daniel—and per experience so far.

Daniel wrote a comment that “vibrating formless realms” refers to oscillating between seventh and eighth jhana. I need to follow up on this marginalia.

Hi, Eric! Did you see where Moses, er Daniel, brought the law down from on high and threw it before swine, er, I mean all DhO beings? He didn’t answer clarifying questions about whether he was talking about criteria for having 3rd at all, or criteria for “late” 3rd. He’ll escape my questioning only so long, for now that this cat is out of the bag, it will certainly have to go into the revised edition.


Yeah, path 3 and 3.5, that make some sense. I would still push 2nd path into 1st and make those two early and mature anagamis into two separate paths, 2nd and 3rd.


There is not a two-phase third path in Daniel’s Revised Four-Path Model or in his Simple Model. Both models are worthless to me. They say almost nothing.

I’m inclined to agree with you Pawel—First Path ought to be Fruition and cycle based. As soon as actual insights/wisdom and walking-around persistent changes in perception start up, that ought to be next (Second?). At some almost-done point, that ought to be Third.

At any rate, Daniel has a bunch of ‘spaining to do.

If one has to have luminosity and agencylessness the “vast majority of the time” to even qualify for 3rd path, then, as DW mentioned, Daniel has lot of filling in of Second Path to do in his model! Currently, Second Path has zero insight listed—just, oh, another path and fruition attained. So friggin’ what!


Jhānas as Insight Laboratories

Rising to each jhana is like landing on a new floor with its own insight laboratory.

Rapid Cycles

I’ve become more aware now and again of rapid cycling of the knowledges (insight stages). For example, Sunday I had to squeeze a 30-minute sit in before going to an IDM concert in Chapel Hill. During the sit, I was in Misery. During the show in Chapel Hill, I was grooving on the music, but I was oddly aware of moving into Disgust and then Desire for Deliverance and finally Low Equanimity. I’ve now experienced Low EQ enough times clearly to know that it mimics the Cause/Effect and Three Characteristics stages, particularly with edginess and body aches.

Jhāna All the Time

I’m growing comfortable with insight practice again, after months of wandering around in my practice while pretty confused, uncomfortably emotionally volatile, and clueless about what my focus or even practice “should” be. The jhanas I suddenly profoundly had after August 8 are a gift. They dominate my experience not only “on the cushion” but often even “in the office.” 

Jhānas as Insight Laboratories

I don’t know why it hasn’t overtly occurred to me before now that I could and therefore should be looking for the Three Characteristics of these rich states. Now that is what I’m doing, and this is by far the richest, weirdest, and most profound my meditation practice has ever been. Much of it is beyond the reach of my words, and that is fine (for once). Some post-sit observations about these jhanas, so far, are as follows:

♦ If I look for the impermanence in Boundless Space, the result is a sense of texture and warp. Boundless Space is sometimes hard to distinguish from Boundless Consciousness. The shift seems to happen when I forget to exert the effort to sense spaciousness. Then I catch that the Boundlessness is really Consciousness.

♦ If I look for the Impermanence of Consciousness, this brings up unease. If I flip back to noticing space and then allow that space into what feels like it is “me,” then that result is very strange and worth further investigation. Hmm, this is one of those things that I mentioned as being beyond articulation at this time for this practitioner.

♦ I think I’m touching into Nothingness a bit here and there. It is scary!

♦ If I open my eyes, my body is still remarkably gone, but something about vision implies a line between “me” and “over there.” How do I work with this? Well, maybe I can see how much of what I consider to be sensations of me I can look at as “over there.” That changes the whole field of sensation somehow. Worthwhile to investigate this further, I think.

♦ Closing my eyes again, awareness can posit Boundless Consciousness as an object. And right there, between the two, is an opportunity to surrender. Really, I think that is it! And to a large degree I felt that old High EQ faith arise and felt some resistance hold-out of me drop. And there were sensations of literally relaxing and dropping. Must keep going with this.

♦ For the first time ever, I got the direct sense that, as DW and I were discussing the other day, jhanas can be invented. I suspect that there is actually nothing hard and fast about the particular jhanas. The difference between Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness seems to be merely a result of impermanence related to effort. Boundless Space requires more effort, even though it is easier for me to enter and be sure that I“inhabit.” Boundless Consciousness is almost an accident, a forgetting to maintain that effort into spaciousness. So I catch “myself” “doing” Boundless Consciousness after the fact. The difference between the two states is a texture wrought by the impermanence of intention and attention.

These sits feel miraculous, and this wondrous tone supports great faith in the process. I think I’m supposed to investigate this wonder, too.