Monday, September 16, 2013

How I reached Full Enlightenment

Wisdom Quarterly; Daniel M. Ingram (DhO), Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

When I was about 15 years old I accidentally ran into some of the classic early meditation experiences described in the ancient texts and my reluctant spiritual quest began.

I did not realize what had happened, nor did I realize that I had crossed something like a point of no return, something I would later call the Arising and Passing Away. I knew that I had had a very strange dream with bright lights, that my entire body and world had seemed to explode like fireworks, and that afterwards I somehow had to find something, but I had no idea what that was. I philosophized frantically for years until I finally began to realize that no amount of thinking was going to solve my deeper spiritual issues and complete the cycle of practice that had already started.

I had a very good friend that was in the band that employed me as a sound tech and roadie. He was in a similar place, caught like me in something we would later call the Dark Night and other names. He also realized that logic and cognitive restructuring were not going to help us in the end. We looked carefully at what other philosophers had done when they came to the same point, and noted that some of our favorites had turned to mystical practices. We reasoned that some sort of nondual wisdom that came from direct experience was the only way to go, but acquiring that sort of wisdom seemed a daunting task if not impossible. 

He was a bit farther along than I was in his spiritual crisis, and finally he had no choice but to give it a try. He quit the music business, moved back to California, and lived in a run down old mobile home, driving pizza to save money so that he could go off on a spiritual quest. He finally did some intensive meditation retreats and then eventually took off to Asia for a year of intensive practice under the guidance of meditation masters in the Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition. When he came back, the benefits of his practice were obvious, and a few years later I began to try to follow a similar path.
In 1994, I began going on intensive meditation retreats and doing a lot of daily practice. I also ran into some very odd and interesting experiences and began to look around for more guidance on how to proceed and keep things in perspective. Good teachers were few and far away, their time limited and often expensive to obtain, and their answers to my questions were often guarded and cryptic. Even my old music friend was keeping most of what he knew to himself, and issues around disclosure of meditation theory and personal practice details nearly cost us our friendship. 

Frustrated, I turned to books, reading extensively, poring over texts both modern and ancient looking for conceptual frameworks that might help me navigate skillfully in territory that was completely outside my previous experience. Despite having access to an astounding number of great and detailed [D]harma books, I found that they left out lots of details that turned out to be very important. I learned the hard way that using conceptual frameworks that were too idealistic or that were not fully explained could be as bad as using none at all. Further, I found that much of the theory about progress contained ideals and myths that simply did not hold up to reality testing, as much as I wanted them to.

I also came to the profound realization that they have actually worked all of this stuff out. Those darn Buddhists have come up with very simple techniques that lead directly to remarkable results if you follow instructions and get the dose high enough. While some people don’t like this sort of cookbook approach to meditation, I am so grateful for their recipes that words fail to express my profound gratitude for the successes they have afforded me.

Their simple and ancient practices revealed more and more of what I sought. I found my experiences filling in the gaps in the texts and teachings, debunking the myths that pervade the standard Buddhist dogma and revealing the secrets meditation teachers routinely keep to themselves. Finally, I came to a place where I felt comfortable writing the book that I had been looking for, the book you now hold in your hands.

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 [D]harma books, as it is designed to be honest, explicit, straightforward, and rigorously technical. Like many of the commentaries on the Pali Canon, it is organized along the lines of the three basic trainings that the Buddha taught: morality, concentration, and wisdom.

Throughout this book I have tried to be as utilitarian and pragmatic as possible, and the emphasis is always on how to actually “get it” at the level that makes some difference. More

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