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Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha
July 30, 2011 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book (pdf, html)
posted by MetaMonkey (72 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait...John Joseph and HR are Buddhists now?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dharma cowboys again?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 6:14 PM on July 30, 2011


For anyone who might want one, I made this Kindle-friendly MOBI version.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:29 PM on July 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am reading it now and I like it, but what does hardcore mean?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 6:58 PM on July 30, 2011


Thanks for posting the mobi file, but please don't use file hosting sites that want to install spyware on my computer.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:59 PM on July 30, 2011


This is a thin post. Let's add a few links to more information about the author, Daniel Ingram, and the "hardcore dharma movement," and maybe some of its other proponents such as Kenneth Folk.
posted by twsf at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This book is hardcore. Seriously. It did not sit well with my karma, but I love it for how high it sets the bar. From another comment of mine, if you like wicked-smart and clearly written, see also: Kenneth Folk, Shinzen Young, and Opening the Hand of Thought.
posted by zeek321 at 7:12 PM on July 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Daniel Ingram has also been featured on the Buddhist Geeks podcast.
posted by brappi at 7:15 PM on July 30, 2011


Thanks twsf, your link about the hardcore dhamra movement is a good way to frame the post that I would have liked to have included.

My laziness, ignorance, and faith in MeFi commenters is again rewarded!
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:20 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know that it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but anyone (in this case Ingram) who attaches their own name and reputation to a Buddhist movement is... well, I don't know, inauthentic?

Is Ingram a "roshi" who is qualified to transmit Buddhist teachings? I don't know. In fact, I don't know anything about Buddhism at all.

I've said it before in other MeFi threads, but... I became friends with a monk who had resided at a Soto Zen monastery in rural Japan for 30 years. I asked him what books I should read to learn more about Buddhism.

He said "The books and the precepts and the rules are just a distraction. What's most important is to learn how to sit, and to learn how to practice seated meditation. Learn that first."
posted by KokuRyu at 7:22 PM on July 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


I like how Soto Zen emphasizes how to properly meditate and leaves everything else as secondary. Ingram kind of does that too, but uses a lot more words, I think as a reaction to all the crap out there. There are pluses and minuses to this.

(Ingram is authorized to teach in a traditional lineage, by the way, as far as I know. Mahasi Sayadaw, I think.)
posted by zeek321 at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


A nice, clear and concise overview of the hardcore/pragmatic approach to buddhism: The Core Features of Pragmatic Dharma
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:34 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ingram is authorized to teach in a traditional lineage, by the way, as far as I know. Mahasi Sayadaw, I think.

I like to think that this makes the buddah laugh.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:37 PM on July 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


Act now! Authorized traditional lineage dealers are standing by. Get your certified pre-owned lineage today.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:40 PM on July 30, 2011 [5 favorites]




I know that it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but anyone (in this case Ingram) who attaches their own name and reputation to a Buddhist movement is... well, I don't know, inauthentic?

Lots of people have founded Buddhist schools and lineages, so I don't know why this should be considered inauthentic. Some schools are quite proud of the fact that they have a centuries-old line of dharma transmission going to their founder, who is often a revered figure.

He said "The books and the precepts and the rules are just a distraction. What's most important is to learn how to sit, and to learn how to practice seated meditation. Learn that first."

That idea is part of Zen, but Daniel Ingram practices in the Therevada tradition. Is there any particular reason that Zen should be considered the final word on Buddhism?
posted by AlsoMike at 7:49 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the Kindle-friendly version, Apropos! It's much easier to read on my iPad.
posted by garnetgirl at 7:49 PM on July 30, 2011


Is there any particular reason [...]

Other flavors of Buddhism emphasize theory and practice equally. It's nice that we live in a time when we can be aware of so many different options.

Personally, I am/was hyper-analytical and outcome-focused to the point where Vipassana and and all the reading were tying me up in knots and getting in the way.

The particular flavor of Zen that I'm doing helps to cut through all that, now that I've sort of done my time. To each his or her own.
posted by zeek321 at 8:05 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That idea is part of Zen, but Daniel Ingram practices in the Therevada tradition. Is there any particular reason that Zen should be considered the final word on Buddhism?

There is no reason whatsoever.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lineage is important in most Buddhist traditions, and even in the crazy world of Zen, not anyone can jump up and start a monastery. In Tibetan Buddhism, lineage is especially important, and that gets to the question of whether or not ideas about the guru and transmission are important.

But I never got the feeling that Buddhists care what other Buddhists think about their practice, at least not to the extent that Evangelicals and Catholics and Mormons and Shiites and Sunnis do.
posted by kozad at 8:12 PM on July 30, 2011


even in the crazy world of Zen, not anyone can jump up and start a monastery.

What do you mean? In Soto Zen (in Japan), all teachers trace their lineage back to Dogen.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:24 PM on July 30, 2011


Read this book last year, and it definitely provided some benefit to my practice. I generally sit two to three hours a day, which is a bit slack by this guy's standards. I checked him out (asked someone I trust about the book) when I was studying it. The meat of the response I got was "his opinions are interesting, but nowhere near as clear, factual, or useful as the author seems to believe at the time of writing, despite the accurate theravadin content." But I kept going with it, because the early material on attending to impermanence proved useful to me. (My practice has tended to focus on attending to suffering.) His excellent web forum, "The Dharma Overground," is a good place to clear up anything you find confusing or disturbing about the book.

Also, this is a very interesting comment by the author (on ), describing the discrepancies between his own experience of awakening and the traditional maps of awakening.
KokuRyu: He said "The books and the precepts and the rules are just a distraction. What's most important is to learn how to sit, and to learn how to practice seated meditation. Learn that first."
Totally agree with that; seated meditation is exactly what this book intends to teach. The Roshi was probably responding more to pointless theory and speculation about Buddhist theology and ethics.
posted by fivebells at 8:45 PM on July 30, 2011


I am a 7th Level Lotus Wizard
posted by ian1977 at 8:48 PM on July 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


and this book gave me the courage to admit that without shame
posted by ian1977 at 8:50 PM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Big boat, little boat, no boat, and now look at my yacht.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:53 PM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for that fivebells, very interesting.

I'd love to hear any suggestions for links/books to get a better understanding of the four stages of enlightenment, or more criticism of Ingam's take on the four stages of enlightenment.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:09 PM on July 30, 2011


Sometimes I think it's a shame that Zen was the first branch of Buddhism to become well known in the English-speaking world, because it's given us a sort of skewed image of the rest of Buddhism. (Imagine if the only Muslims you knew about were Sufis, or the only Christians you knew about were Unitarians. You'd end up with some similarly skewed ideas about the rest of those faiths.)

In particular, there's this widespread idea that Buddhism is all about illogic and non sequiturs and hitting people with a stick any time they try to have a coherent conversation with you. And that idea isn't even 100% true of Zen practice, but it's even less true of Buddhist practice in other traditions.

Early Indian Buddhist writing is rigorous. It's structured, intensely logical, full of lists and taxonomies, and generally as far as I can tell it was written to be read, comprehended and responded to as part of a scholarly discussion. It wasn't meant to be some sort of incomprehensible bitchslap to your higher mental faculties. They still insisted that meditation was the main event; that reading and talking alone wouldn't get you anywhere. But they also pretty clearly did value conscious understanding, reading, and discussion, if only as a way of keeping your meditation practice and your ethical life on track and making sure you weren't barking up the wrong tree.

This Ingram character might be an asshole. (He might not be! I've never met him!) But I like the idea that you should talk about your practice in clear and concrete terms, and lay out explicit roadmaps for other people on the same path, even up to the point of saying "Look, I've had that experience of clarity that you're looking for, and I can tell you a bit about how I got there." And I see nothing "un-Buddhist" about that sort of thing — it's not the most Zennish way to go about things, but Zen is just one approach.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:22 PM on July 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


Ajahn Brahm's book Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond gets rather technical talking about progressive stages in jhanas while being pretty accessible.
posted by brappi at 9:26 PM on July 30, 2011


Ah, get off it. I'm as areligious as they come and I think this is pretty neat.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:28 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, get off it. I'm as areligious as they come and I think this is pretty neat.

I'm an atheist who is (at least wants to be) sympathetic to Buddhism, but this kind of stuff really trips my Skeptometer:
I claim I got anagamihood in late 1996 based on these things:
1) I had gone through what to me felt like 3 complete progress of insight cycles.
2) I had access to Nirodha Samapatti
3) I now could perceive the luminosity/centerless/awareness-as-manifestation-ness of the vast majority of the phenomena that made up the whole changing sense sphere, which was a radical and permanent transformation of how I viewed the world.
From the author's comment that fivebells linked to.

I just don't get how this represents anything more than playing increasingly cool tricks on your mind and/or learning to write/speak in sensationalist terms about it. And that's my charitable take on it, where I assume both good faith and a lack of delusional feelings of grandiosity.
posted by callmejay at 9:39 PM on July 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


hey awesome metafilter thanks for the sweet religious pamphlets, usually i have to get up and answer the door.

you can order pizza online now too but you still have to answer the door to get the za.

woah. i just blew my mind.
posted by ian1977 at 9:39 PM on July 30, 2011


But I like the idea that you should talk about your practice in clear and concrete terms, and lay out explicit roadmaps for other people on the same path, even up to the point of saying "Look, I've had that experience of clarity that you're looking for, and I can tell you a bit about how I got there." And I see nothing "un-Buddhist" about that sort of thing — it's not the most Zennish way to go about things, but Zen is just one approach.

I hear what you're saying. And I like some of what Ingram says in this, at least from the small amount I've read so far, the section on morality:

There is no limit to the degree of skill that can be brought to how we live in the world. Thus, morality is also the last training, the training that we will have to work on for all of our life.

The thing that confuses me is that he distinguishes this in a way—which to me is arbitrary—from the practice itself (from the beginning of the same paragraph):

The second two trainings, those having to do with attaining unusual states of mind and those having to do with ultimate realizations, have limits, in that we can master them absolutely.

This seems rather strange to me. Granted, perhaps this is a result of the Theraveda/Mahayana philosophical divide; I know a lot more about Zen (predictably). But, arguably, all practice is united, there is no practice which is separate from any other practice. nebulawindphone, I know you were generalizing and are fully aware that Zen isn't necessarily represented by this, but I reject the notion that Zen is somehow about this constant inexplicable koan practice; and even that has a relatively logical point (getting your mind out of the space of relying on conceptual thought, and moving you to direct experience). I guess I feel like if Zen has any point, it's that everything is practice. Everything you do is practice. It's all about being mindful.

So I guess that's my main beef with this idea right off the bat; it divides things up.

But, in the end, if it gets people practicing that's cool too. There are far worse things in the world than that...
posted by dubitable at 9:41 PM on July 30, 2011


this kind of stuff really trips my Skeptometer

He also seems to believe in the literal existence of the siddhis (which he refers to as "Buddhist magic," apparently, from the description of a Buddhist Geeks podcast I have not listened to), FYI.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:58 PM on July 30, 2011


Small side note: this post and comments have inspired me to ask metafilter for more information on intermediate/advanced meditation.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:59 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I think I see what you're saying. And there is something really elegant about the idea that you can reduce everything to mindfulness — that you don't need separate techniques for thinking about ethics and practical questions and religious questions, you just need to pay attention.

Still, historically, a lot of Buddhists have spent a lot of time making careful distinctions between different practices.

I wonder if it makes sense to see the distinctions as provisionally useful even if they're not ultimately real. "I haven't yet convinced myself that all of these practices amount to the same thing. So I'm gonna keep working 'separately' on each of them, and trust that sooner or later they'll all meet in the middle."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:21 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I've only read a little bit of the book so far myself. So I'm not really even trying to defend his approach — just sort of thinking out loud about where it fits in with the rest of Buddhism.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:29 PM on July 30, 2011


I guess I feel like if Zen has any point, it's that everything is practice.

That's very Soto Zen, and that's one of the things I like about it. Practice, enlightenment, analytical thinking, and just living your life are the same thing. And that's not just abstract theory. You meditate (which is an aspect of just living your life) and you come to phenomenologically experience their unification.

Theravada has that split where meditation is separate, and you achieve something, and you bring something back from it. In Zen, how you meditate is supposed to be how you live, and meditation is a little microcosm where you practice that. And whether meditation takes you somewhere or it doesn't, your meditation right now is an expression of qualities that you are attempting to enact in your life right now. That's my take, anyway.

Check out this extremely challenging book which is the second best book I've ever read:
http://www.amazon.com/Dogen-Meditation-Thinking-Reflection-View/dp/0791469263/

And my practice book:
http://www.amazon.com/Opening-Hand-Thought-Foundations-Buddhist/dp/0861713575/
posted by zeek321 at 10:59 PM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


LOL at authentic religion.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:04 AM on July 31, 2011


I generally sit two to three hours a day, which is a bit slack by this guy's standards.
Somehow that comment gives me pause.
Should one practice sitting that long every day according to this Ingram? Instead of relating to other people, working etc?
posted by joost de vries at 12:31 AM on July 31, 2011


Should one practice sitting that long every day according to this Ingram? Instead of relating to other people, working etc?

perhaps instead of watching TV and surfing the internet.
posted by russm at 12:36 AM on July 31, 2011


" I claim I got anagamihood in late 1996 . . . I had access to Nirodha Samapatti"

I have people I know who firmly believe that they have channeled Odin, or been possessed by Bondye. Really, it's amazing how powerful the mind is, when it comes to belief structures. Despite obvious differences, it can, over time, begin to interpret those belief structures as reality... and start to route around it... which is generally called self-delusion. And yet, the mind is powerful enough, that people can actually derive some benefits from this.

...but fall into delusion, and it will always move you away from reality.

By all means, sit down and learn to experience what it means to breathe and to exist, because there is something to learn there that can be profound. But Buddha? He's dead forever, and far less aware of anything than you, because you exist and he does not. Not only can you never truly get inside his mind, you simply do not know with any certainty that you would be better off if you could. And the world is just fine that way.
posted by markkraft at 4:13 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can never meditate. My mind always moves to bad thoughts. what should I do
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:21 AM on July 31, 2011


you can order pizza online now too but you still have to answer the door to get the za.


Za
posted by sammyo at 4:35 AM on July 31, 2011




By The Grace of God - notice them, accept that your mind went there, and then with a conscious exercise of will put them aside and return to your meditation. and the next time it happens, as it will, you do that again. and again.

meditation isn't a thing that when you're good at it you won't have those thoughts, it's (among other things) practicing the skill of being aware of those thoughts when they happen but not being caught up in them.
posted by russm at 5:45 AM on July 31, 2011


Achievements, be it of particular transcendent states, or of favorites, may be awesome, but enlightenment does not fall into this category. Or more accurately, if you experience it in that way, you miss the point, even if you had it just a moment ago. I think it's cool that these guys map this stuff out the way they do, but the thing about enlightenment is it's totally useless and there's no good reason to seek it at all. (Or to avoid seeking it, unless you are deterred by Trungpa Rinpoche's characterization of it as "one insult after another.")
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:33 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


ian1977: hey awesome metafilter thanks for the sweet religious pamphlets, usually i have to get up and answer the door.

you can order pizza online now too but you still have to answer the door to get the za.
With concepts presented on an internet discussion board, it's even easier. No one even expects you to respond if you're not interested! (If it's that you want to indicate we're full of shit, you can just come out and say it. I can't speak for everybody, but I won't be offended, at least, and it'll be easier to respond meaningfully and respectfully to a substantive criticism than this snark. Take your best shot! If you can demonstrate to me that I'm wasting my time, you'll have done me a huge favor!)
posted by fivebells at 6:33 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


So I guess that's my main beef with this idea right off the bat; it divides things up.

This division goes back to the Pali sutras, and is in Mahayana practice as well, though under different names. It's like dividing language up into vocabulary, grammar and expression. When you speak, it's all just language, but the division provides a useful focus for areas which might be improved.
posted by fivebells at 6:41 AM on July 31, 2011


He also seems to believe in the literal existence of the siddhis (which he refers to as "Buddhist magic..."

Yes, he does.
posted by fivebells at 6:44 AM on July 31, 2011


Should one practice sitting that long every day according to this Ingram? Instead of relating to other people, working etc?

Well, it's a question of values. He's got some very specific, ambitious goals he's shooting for, and makes a strong case that you won't achieve such goals without such a time commitment. He also says that's not for everyone, at least not at this particular moment. (First question.)

For me, it is never wasted time. It actually saves time, because there are a bunch of stupid things I do which tend to waste time and energy, and meditation reduces that tendency. It's also afforded me an emotional resiliency which I didn't have before. And I have a decent job, a peaceful, loving marriage, etc. so there's been time for conventional things, too. My career is not as far along as it might have been, had I gone for broke on that score, but I'm pretty sure that had I done that, I would have wound up being miserable. At the moment, I'm not miserable, and I see that as a worthwhile trade.
posted by fivebells at 6:56 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can never meditate. My mind always moves to bad thoughts. what should I do

By the Grace of God: You would probably find it helpful to read this brief essay.
The purpose of jogging is to be physically fit. The method is to regularly run a set distance or time at a set pace. The effects of running vary. You are energized and invigorated on some days, tired and worn out on others, stiff or sore on some days, flexible and relaxed on others. The effects vary from day to day, on some days positive, on other days negative. The results are increased strength, muscle tone, endurance and general fitness.

The same distinctions apply to meditation. The purpose is to cultivate attention. The method is placing and resting attention on the breath. The effects are varied. On some days, meditation is like a peaceful rest in infinite open space. On other days, it is more like a struggle through a howling storm. On some days, attention is clear and stable. On other days, all we experience is distraction and pain. The results are an increase in the level of attention, the ability to stay in attention in both formal practice and daily life, and less reactivity in our lives.
If you keep returning attention to the experience of breathing, a more peaceful relationship to the bad thoughts will gradually evolve.
posted by fivebells at 7:02 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


For my money Mindfulness in Plain English is still the best into to: meditation, how do it work? Except for a couple sentences of silliness about levitation it's very grounded/secular/non-magical

I browsed through this guy's site and web forums but I'm not seeing a lot of substance. Regardless I think a focus on meditation over the actual philosophy is somewhat misguided - people need to try to express the what of it all, even with the inherent impossibility. Especially the inherent impossibility. And why even bother calling this Buddhism anymore? If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Call it unreductionist metaphysics. Call it mu

I read all this seven magical pathamabobs and 4 luminous whosiwhatsits and think these people have missed the damn boat and are sitting on the shore drawing pictures of boats in their heads, thinking they're enlightened because hey, anything's better than American Idol
posted by crayz at 7:59 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it is my zen affinity, but I am highly suspicious of anyone who writes a book or creates a following based on his "attainment of enlightenment" or "goals" or anything that smacks of guru-ness.

I'm all for stripping meditation down. Even for stripping Buddhism down, since I do that quite a bit in my own practice. But I also have some healthy respect for thousands of years of practice (not the superstitions, mind you) over somebody who says, "I got The Way! Buy My Book!"

I guess I've always been of the opinion that anyone who declares to the world he's attained enlightenment most pointedly hasn't. Or at least, at that moment of declaration, has lost focus.
posted by RedEmma at 8:10 AM on July 31, 2011


it's amazing how powerful the mind is, when it comes to belief structures. Despite obvious differences, it can, over time, begin to interpret those belief structures as reality... and start to route around it... which is generally called self-delusion.

In the meditation texts you will find descriptions of various experiences and how to achieve them. These experiences are typically arranged in a progressive fashion.

You can follow the instructions and then see if you have some of the initial experiences. (e.g. so-called "access concentration," "first jhana," etc.)

At some point, you may think, "Yup, I'm pretty damn sure that's what they're talking about." Maybe you're wrong or you're fooling yourself, but let's say the correlations start stacking up.

I've done this with Theravada for some of the low-hanging fruit. I'm agnostic on the utility and meaning of these experiences, but they are a replicable phenomenological states and events. I have no real reason to disbelieve Ingram about the later stuff, when my experiences have an overlap with his. If I really care about some of the later stuff, I can go and find out if he's right. He left instructions on how to do it, and that's sort of the point. If you're curious, you can see for yourself. And you should know within a few months whether you want to keep going.

There's no question that one can be primed to have certain experiences (whether it's a meditative experience or Jesus's love or whatever), but this warning is baked into the Buddhist literature. Ingram continues this tradition and says in the book that if you want to check the validity of an experience, then you need to repeat it over and over, talk with more experienced meditators, and pretty much remain skeptical ad infinitum.

Perhaps more to the point, whether it's a meditative state, or chi ("energy"), or God's love, or whatever, yeah, sometimes it's wishy-washy bullshit and vague rambling. But other times, people are really experiencing something. That is, something distinct is happening to them, and they are matching this experience with a theory, belief, or description.

You can disagree the meaning or utility of the experience, you can disagree with their interpretation of what's happening to them, and you can think that the language they're using is too vague or not well-correlated with what's actually going on inside them or whatever. But, let's say you want to talk to a meditator, reiki practitioner, Odin worshipper, or fundamentalist Christian. They certainly don't consider themselves self-deluded. They are deriving meaning from a practice and the resulting experience.

If you get this on a deep level, you can have more functional interactions with Christians, atheists, Jew-Bhus, Republican's, etc. And it makes for more interesting and constructive discussions with fellow human beings who happen to mutually knee-jerk-think a particular other group of people is wacko.
posted by zeek321 at 8:15 AM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Though the rock-and-roller to Buddhism path is almost a trope, it doesn't resonate with me as well as the mathematician to Buddhism one, documented by Henk Barendregt in two papers (pdfs here). I appreciate all good accounts like these, so thanks for the post (and subsequent comments)!
posted by dylanjames at 8:17 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am enjoying the book - wanted to post an exercise from the book that I will try, to give people a sense of the text without having to commit to reading it:

"My favorite exercise for examining suffering is to sit in a quiet place with my eyes closed and examine the physical sensations that make up any sort of desire, be it desire to get something, get away from something or just tune out and go to sleep. At a rate of one to ten times per second, I try to experience exactly how I know that I wish to do something other than simply face my current experience as it is. Moment to moment, I try to find those little uncomfortable urges and tensions that try to prod my mind into fantasizing about past or future or stopping my meditation entirely.

For that meditation period, they are my prey and nourishment, opportunities to understand something extraordinary about reality, and so I do my very best to let none of them arise and pass without the basic sense of dissatisfaction in them being clearly perceived as it is. I turn on sensations of the desire to get results, turn on the pains and unsettling sensations that make my mind contract, turn on the boredom that is usually aversion to suffering in disguise, turn on the sensations of restlessness that try to get me to stop meditating. Anything with fear or judgment in it is my bread and butter for that meditation period. Any sensation that smacks of grandiosity or self-loathing is welcomed as a source of wisdom."
posted by Atrahasis at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, that is a very worthwhile exercise, Atrahasis. It definitely gives a sense of the most valuable part of it, the description of how to practice. The bit about maps of the path, I can take or leave.
posted by fivebells at 8:42 AM on July 31, 2011


Several topics are touched on in links to this thread that seem decidedly against the Buddhist goal of overcoming illusions and ego. Psychic powers. Levitation. Reincarnation. And so on.

It's not only because I lay trust in an empirical, scientific view of the world that I find these concepts difficult to swallow. It's also because they seem to be the epitome of what Trungpa Rinpoche called spiritual materialism: the pursuit of a religious or spiritual practice for the positive, beneficial effects it bestows on one's life, be they material wealth, "grace," the promise of an afterlife, or special "powers" like telepathy or levitation. For Trungpa, a spiritual practice based on these ideas is saturated with bad faith, because it doesn't promote reality--it promotes a hopeful, pollyannisic view of reality which connects to the ego's desire for self-betterment.

I even have problems with articles, like this one from the New York Times, discussing the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and his successors. Yes, I know that the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) can be--and largely is--taken as symbolic, and that nobody forces you to believe in stories about the Dalai Lama's reincarnated predecessors. But still, I can't get past the spiritual materialistic aspects of these beliefs.

Upthread, RedEmma brushes past the sentences about levitation in Mindfulness in Plain English as a mild type of "silliness," and I agree--they don't detract from this very useful work. But still, I have a hard time coping with this stuff, both from an anti-ego, spiritual materialist viewpoint and an analytical, scientific viewpoint.

How do you cope with them in your study and practice of the teachings?
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:53 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


He appears to be doing that thing, you know, where he starts off making some impressive marketable statement that trips any well-maintained bullshit detector, and then as he continues it turns out that he was using some strange and unusual interpretation of his words that isn't strictly a personal definition, but definitely isn't what you'd expect it to mean if you happen not to be Daniel Ingram.

So, for instance, in that essay on psychic powers he goes like Whether or not these are “real” is a question that I am happy to avoid, though these experiences can be so extremely vivid that they can seem more “real” than the “real world.”

but then he's all like For example, we might decide that our dreams are not “real”, but we must admit that there are real world consequences of having dreams.

but that's not saying they aren't real because On the other hand, it does seem to be possible through powerful intent, strong concentration ability, appreciation of interdependence and careful experimentation to manipulate what we might call “this world”, as well as those in it, in very unusual and profound ways.

so it sounds like he thinks psi powers are "real" in the way that neurolinguistic programming is real: it's nothing like science but the techniques seem to work to their intended effect for a lot of people. And he can't come out and say it's unscientific because if you think critically about it, it stops working, like how when you ride a bicycle you don't think about the chain.

Except that bike mechanics can and do think about the chain, just not when they're on the bike, and maybe Ingram does know a thing or two about real psychology and/or neuroscience but he ain't talking, because he's not selling bike repair, he's selling a really cool bike.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:56 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I even have problems with articles, like this one from the New York Times, discussing the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and his successors. Yes, I know that the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) can be--and largely is--taken as symbolic, and that nobody forces you to believe in stories about the Dalai Lama's reincarnated predecessors. But still, I can't get past the spiritual materialistic aspects of these beliefs.

Upthread, RedEmma brushes past the sentences about levitation in Mindfulness in Plain English as a mild type of "silliness," and I agree--they don't detract from this very useful work. But still, I have a hard time coping with this stuff, both from an anti-ego, spiritual materialist viewpoint and an analytical, scientific viewpoint.

How do you cope with them in your study and practice of the teachings?


These idiosyncrasies point out that "Buddhism" is pragmatic in its approach. There is no one way to live life, no one way to look at life. Buddhism gives you a lot of tools.

At the same time, Buddhism is not a religion that you choose. It's a way of life - Buddhism is life, so a lot of these idiosyncrasies are cultural.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I even have problems with articles, like this one from the New York Times, discussing the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and his successors. Yes, I know that the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) can be--and largely is--taken as symbolic, and that nobody forces you to believe in stories about the Dalai Lama's reincarnated predecessors. But still, I can't get past the spiritual materialistic aspects of these beliefs.

I would say, investigate the world for yourself. Read, discuss, experience anything that seems valuable. I will at times use 'Buddhist' as a symbolic shorthand, helpful for googling interesting ideas or as a finger pointing at the moon when starting to explain my viewpoint to others. But I would never actually identify my self with such a label, and I think on some level anyone who does so without immediately acknowledging the irony of it all is still lost. When I hear Buddhists argue over true lineages or will the real reincarnation please stand up I can't help but feel these people have drank their own (perhaps originally symbolic) kool-aid

I think it's possible to make linear, reductionist arguments that demonstrate the paradoxes inherent in linear, reductionist thought. I would point to Gödel's incompleteness theorems and quantum mechanics as essentially mathematics and physical science proving their own absurdity, although not too many people seem to have caught on so far
posted by crayz at 9:33 AM on July 31, 2011


How do you cope with [magical, metaphysical claims] in your study and practice of the teachings?
On a relative level, for almost all likely practical purposes, I am a materialist, and an atheist. But everybody (including me) believes some things for stupid reasons, and everybody but me believes some things I don't believe. If someone says something I don't agree with, does that mean I should discount other things they've said, even if those other things accord with my reason and experience? I just ignore the parts which make no sense and take the stuff which works. Traditionalists dismiss this approach as "dharma-lite" and claim that it leads to discarding important material just because it makes you uncomfortable. And it does take more self-discipline, because it vitiates an authoritarianism underlying all of the traditional forms of Buddhist practice. But it's worked for me so far, and I think it's a position which all practitioners come to at some point when they fully understand what the practice has to offer and how it works.

That said, one of the things which first attracted me to my teacher was that his book is written in a way that makes it very easy for a materialist atheist to swallow. Here is his take on karma, for instance, and he regards rebirth as a psychological shift in projected world views forced by a shift in circumstances. About the only supernatural claim I remember him making in the book is that inexpertly accessing the energy which keeps your heart beating may cause it to stop, and that was an example of the risks of a practice which he does not teach, and does not explicitly claim experience with, at least in the book. (There may be other such claims in the book or his huge collection of recorded teachings which I have forgotten or never heard. But I was a Dawkins-style atheist fundamentalist back when I started, so such claims stood out for me, and I think I would have remembered them.)

(Getting from "Dawkins-style atheist" to "I'll just take what works and ignore the nonsensical parts," was as much a fruit of my practice as anything else. Behind my "Dawkins style" was a tendency to attack any idea which seemed weak, and attack the purveyor of the idea in the process. Cutting through that hostile tendency took a long time.)
posted by fivebells at 9:34 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


But I also have some healthy respect for thousands of years of practice (not the superstitions, mind you) over somebody who says, "I got The Way! Buy My Book!"

I'm not a Buddhist so don't have a dog in the race, but the book seems to be all about respect for the traditions and he is non-commercial.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:42 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, I think it's worth noting that Ingram claims to be an M.D. in an emergency department, provides his book online for free, and does not accept donations or students (last four questions.) So it's pretty clear that he's not doing this for money. He's far less commercial than my own teacher, who charges hundreds of dollars for his retreats.
posted by fivebells at 9:55 AM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Should one practice sitting that long every day according to this Ingram? Instead of relating to other people, working etc?

If I were able to sit this long I would -- "able" in the sense of mentally, spiritually, physically, realistically (given the constraints of daily life). I have just begun the merest baby steps of sitting in the past few weeks and will probably be learning to sit longer for the rest of my natural life, as long as my health allows me to do it. I feel impatient and moronic but I am doing it every day and that's something until now that I have never been able to sustain and something tells me that sustaining it is what makes this time different from all the other times that I sat and found reasons -- not reasons, excuses -- to quit and move away. I think sitting is probably one of the most important lessons in life I have not yet learned, and one of the most valuable. I am grateful that I have finally found the time to start learning. As stupid and as asinine as I feel sitting there with the dogs butting me with their noses wondering what the hell I'm doing, as hard as the struggle is with my mind not to sit there, I am glad that I am finally doing it instead of planning to do it or thinking that it's something I should "find the time" to do at some abstract point in the future when things are better, or calmer, or less hectic, or more settled, or .....
posted by blucevalo at 10:48 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I read this book a few years ago, and I wouldn't recommend it to someone looking for an introduction to meditation or Buddhism. It's written for people who have a serious meditation practice and dispenses with the usual mystical poetry to focus on technique. In the Foreword and Warning, Ingram says:
This book is for those who really want to master the core teachings of the Buddha and who are willing to put in the time and effort required. It is also for those who are tired of having to decipher the code of modern and ancient dharma books, as it is designed to be honest, explicit, straightforward and rigorously technical
As a casual meditator, I skimmed those parts. The Warning part of the Foreword and Warning introduce what I thought were the more interesting parts of the book:
I have also included a modicum of social commentary, some of which has a definite bite to it. Some of you may not find it helpful, or even find it quite distasteful and offensive. Some of you will quickly dismiss it as harsh or wrong speech. I am torn between the feeling that there really are some important points in those sections and the understanding that not everyone will be able to make good use of information and opinions presented in such strong terms. Thus, I ask you to please skip over those chapters and get to the friendlier or more technical sections beyond them if you don’t find them helpful.
...
The world is brimming with very nice and friendly dharma books. There are hundreds available on the shelves of any mega-bookstore. However, I believe that there is room for a book that sometimes conveys its message in a very different voice, though I respectfully give you the option to choose how much of that voice you want to hear. It is the unrestrained voice of one from a generation whose radicals wore spikes and combat boots rather than beads and sandals, listened to the Sex Pistols rather than the Moody Blues, wouldn’t know a beat poet or early sixties dharma bum from a hole in the ground, and thought the hippies were pretty friggin’ naive, not that we don't owe them a lot. It is also the unrestrained voice of one whose practice has been dedicated to complete and unexcelled mastery of the traditional and hardcore stages of the path rather than some sort of vapid New Age fluff or pop psychological head-trip. If that ain’t you, consider reading something else.
Much of this latter material is covered in Parts II and III. Even though it can be quite forceful at times, he's not unaware of the pitfalls of adopting that tone:
While I may be fooling myself, I think this section, while a bit harsh and probably disrespectful, is likely to be helpful to someone who also wishes to go against the grain and become an actual meditation master.

The real dangers that come from using a cutting tone are that it will alienate both readers for whom such a tone is simply not helpful and those who could really benefit from such a tone but do not want to admit this. Worse, it may cause others to agree too strongly...
With those caveats in mind, it's well worth reading. He addresses the concept that goals and attainment are bad things in the section The 'Nothing To Do' and 'You Are Already There' Schools, and also in what I thought was a quite perceptive insight into American culture:
I heard someone speculating that Zen might have developed as being very austere and drab because of how colorful and unstable Japan was during its development, and likewise the Tibetan tradition was very colorful and complex because Tibet was so bleak. Burmese Buddhism might be so extremely technical, goal-oriented, efficient and effective because their country is such a chaotic mess. Perhaps in just this way, we have the most goal-oriented culture in the world and yet tend towards the least goal-oriented, least practical and least effective take on Buddhism I have found anywhere.

It is an unfortunate shadow side of our culture that many of us can barely tolerate one more goal to attain, one more hoop to jump through, one more exam to pass, one more certification or degree to obtain, one more SUV to buy. Perhaps we are crafting a Buddhism in which you don’t have to really ever accomplish anything so as to find a refuge from our extremely neurotic fixation on achievement. This might explain why we often fixate on teachings such as “Effortless effort”, “There is nothing to attain,” and postponing enlightenment through the Bodhisattva Vow. Believe me, as someone who has two graduate degrees and actively involved in a field that requires constant reading, recertification, and training, I am often sick of the whole achievement trip as well.

On the other hand, I have found that goal-oriented practice combined with good instruction and a few good conceptual frameworks is largely unstoppable barring extreme circumstances.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


But I also have some healthy respect for thousands of years of practice (not the superstitions, mind you) over somebody who says, "I got The Way! Buy My Book!"

How do you feel about people who say "Here is what I've learned, download my book for free!"?
posted by hippybear at 11:52 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Got it. Thanks. I was in error.
posted by RedEmma at 3:02 PM on July 31, 2011


While I was looking up that last response, I found this recent talk by Ingram, spread across three vimeo pages. It's long, but worth a listen. Probably the best part is about 20 min-60 min in the third part of the talk.
posted by fivebells at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2011


(Talk discussed in this Dharma Overground thread.)
posted by fivebells at 3:46 PM on July 31, 2011


As a highly regarded senior meditation teacher and scholar (who will remain anonymous) said to me after skimming through an earlier draft of this book, “Most Buddhists are just aging Boomers who want to do something to feel better about themselves as they get older and are not really interested in this sort of thing.”

"Highly regarded senior meditation teacher" is too cynical to be an authentic teacher / lama motivated by true compassion for other beings' suffering. I feel bad for his or her students; that kind of cooler-than-thou and non-compassion-focused "dharma" hurts a lot of people.

I've only skimmed a couple excerpts of the book in question, but I generally am skeptical about the usefulness of a book on advanced techniques. Everything I've understood about Buddhist practice suggests you can get yourself into serious trouble without a trustworthy teacher to regularly consult with.
posted by aught at 5:49 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cut my meditation teeth on the secular book, "8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life" by Victor Davich (Amazon|Google Books)

The piecemeal approach made me feel like I was accomplishing something each week while, at the same time, addressing pitfalls I felt/experienced in previous weeks. 8 minutes ended up being way too short by the end of it all -- I ended up opening my eyes and seeing that a good 30-minutes had passed.

Though, honestly, I've lapsed quite a bit in my meditation practices as of late, I'm motivated to start them up again as stress and frustration/temper seem to have found their way back into my reality. I miss the relative "bliss" that I would feel throughout the day back when I was doing it every day.

A recommended read for anyone wanting to start into meditation regardless of current religious/spiritual practices or beliefs.
posted by qwickset at 11:06 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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