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TOPIC: How rare is Enlightenment?

How rare is Enlightenment? 17 Nov 2012 21:00 #7910

I recently discovered someone that I work with may have gotten stream entry through devout Catholic prayer. She was fascinated by the idea that there were crosscultural similarities to awakening in different spiritual traditions, and seemed relieved that someone understood her. I'd like to try to convey how special an event stream entry actually is.

Obviously there are probably geographical differences, but in general, what are people's opinions on how common stream enterers and beyond are in the general population? 1/1000? 1/10,000? 1/100,0000?

How common or rare is it?
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 17 Nov 2012 21:10 #7911

I have no idea how I would ever know the answer to this question. Can we do a survey?

I can only say that I think it's less rare than I once thought it was, but still very rare.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 06:05 #7913

what's kind of mystifying and delightful to me is seeing so many,many seekers who never seem to see beyond their own noses for decades, and at the same time many who see quite clearly in short order. how? who? why? no one knows.

cynthia bourgeault, a christian contemplative who crosses over into the buddhist geeks circles (so does david frenette) said she saw a survey thatabout 15 percent of active christians have a private practice of personal prayer/meditation.
Last Edit: 18 Nov 2012 06:07 by Ona Kiser.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 10:12 #7917

To answer this question, we'd have to have a common understanding of what 'enlightenment' is-- and I wonder whether we do. [Not to mention, access to clear articulation of the experience of many religious or spiritual practitioners...] There certainly does seem to be an uptick in interest and talk about the matter.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 10:25 #7918

Seems like it's only rare because a great deal of people don't understand it or realize what is possible. I think it's safe to say that as understanding spreads it will become less rare. To my knowledge I have not attained stream entry (I assume I'd know if I did) but I don't see it as anything out of my grasp with attentive and consistent practice. I really see it as a problem of education, support and encouragement. Along with a personal willingness and interest or course.
Last Edit: 18 Nov 2012 10:26 by duane_eugene_miller.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 10:31 #7919

"Of a thousand or ten thousand attempting to
enter by this Gate,
Only three or perhaps five pass through" Master Huang-po

James Austin of "Zen and the Brain" thinks that Huang-po had pretty rigorous criteria and probably intended this to represent the number who attained 4th Path. He mentions a survey of Americans in which 18 percent reported they had had a mystical experience in which they "felt they were very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift them outside themselves" and 12 percent had had such an experience more than once. Probably this represented the A&P for most of those people though.

He mentions that in a traditional Rinzai monastery that monks were expected to reach some level of kensho (Stream Entry) after two to three years of training, It was expected that it might take another 10-15 years before they fully matured. This was confirmed in a conversation with Kobori-roshi who told him that it would usually take three years "to get through the Gate," and following this he said "But not into the temple yet." He estimated it would require another ten to twelve years before the wakened monk became skillful enough to teach other monks, at least in the rigorous Rinzai tradition.

Dogen estimated one or two out of several hundred or even a thousand disciples who became truly enlightened, even after they had trained with a great Zen master - but again, he was probably referring to 4th Path as elsewhere he says, "A person who gives rise to a real desire and puts his utmost efforts into study under a teacher will surely gain enlightenment... Those who have this drive, even if they have little knowledge or are of inferior capacity, even if they are stupid or evil, will without fail gain enlightenment."
Ona Kiser wrote:
what's kind of mystifying and delightful to me is seeing so many,many seekers who never seem to see beyond their own noses for decades, and at the same time many who see quite clearly in short order. how? who? why? no one knows.

cynthia bourgeault, a christian contemplative who crosses over into the buddhist geeks circles (so does david frenette) said she saw a survey that about 15 percent of active christians have a private practice of personal prayer/meditation.

This is a helpful statistic - so most of those people will get it, if they stick with it - we have no idea of how long those people maintain though or how consistent their practice is...

Austin elsewhere suggests that the degree of suffering that a person experiences may have something to do with whether they get it or how soon...
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 10:42 #7920

another very anecdotal stat - at a retreat of 200 contemplatives i had personal conversation with about 20. 3 stood out as definitely awake (two life long christian monks, one attendee who was an advaita teacher). another 2 were pretty likely well on the way (both with mixed east/west prectice backgrounds). this was a week long retreat so less likely to attract those who didnt already have a committed daily practice.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 10:55 #7921

David wrote:
James Austin ... mentions a survey of Americans in which 18 percent reported they had had a mystical experience in which they "felt they were very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift them outside themselves" and 12 percent had had such an experience more than once. Probably this represented the A&P for most of those people though.
That's exactly what I was thinking. I think A&P-like events are fairly common. Though, I think stream-entry is somewhat rare. Anything beyond that is probably extraordinarily rare. Then consider those who seem to accidentally wake up, like, completely. That's the rarest of all, and has yogis across the Cosmos silently shouting, "NO FAIR!" :P
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 12:30 #7922

Ona Kiser wrote:
another very anecdotal stat - at a retreat of 200 contemplatives i had personal conversation with about 20. 3 stood out as definitely awake (two life long christian monks, one attendee who was an advaita teacher). another 2 were pretty likely well on the way (both with mixed east/west prectice backgrounds). this was a week long retreat so less likely to attract those who didnt already have a committed daily practice.

So possibly not so rare among those with a daily committed practice - of course we also have to take into account that you might have had an intuitive affinity for those there who were awakened. I've definitely noticed a difference in the "energetic interaction" between me and the few people I've known personally to have a degree of Bodhi.

@duane: It certainly could be possible that you obtained stream entry without knowing it, or that people do. That was certainly the case for me.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 13:43 #7925

the affinity thing has definitely happened a couple times at big events- the spotting someone across the room and seeking each other out. hey, that happened with my husband decades ago! :D. but that connecting thing doesnt always seem to be about 'awake-dar'
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 13:56 #7926

After practicing steadily for years, and intermittently with bursts for decades, this is a tough question for me. Chris suggests that my practice has some things that usually don't show up until 1st path. With my very limited understanding of KDF/Mahasi model, I've never noticed a path moment or anything like re-starts or fruitions, or post-path jhanas, energies, insights etc. So it's hard for me to feel confident that I have, although I have a lot of confidence in Chris's experience and judgement. And if I have, it's disappointing. I always thought 1st path would have more impact on how psychological and socialy functional I would be. And would make me feel less threatened at the core. One idea I have is that sitting for a long time and going to a number of retreats, hearing lots of Dharma talks, and meeting with multiple teachers, eventually starts to do some of the getting damp in the mist, without actually breaking through. Something inside palpably wants me to meet it, but I don't think I'm meeting it 1/2 way. Feels like it will require really getting loose from habitual patterns that define me, and that might also be rare.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 14:04 #7928

Mark, you have insights that tell me that you are not where you seem to think you are. It is a trap to think that everyone follows the same path, has the same experiences, gets the same attainments in the same order. We know for a fact that that is simply not true. Not even close. There are people practicing in traditions outside of the Theravada/Practical Dharma models who have no experience of paths, stream entry, or much else that we might recognize, but who are very much awake. I think it's important we stop limiting ourselves to a model that, while it works for those who pursue it, is by no means the only path and is probably not even the most common path.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 14:22 #7929

Ona Kiser wrote:
the affinity thing has definitely happened a couple times at big events- the spotting someone across the room and seeking each other out. hey, that happened with my husband decades ago! :D. but that connecting thing doesnt always seem to be about 'awake-dar'

Let me beg to differ, Ona; my first big break-through insight was "It takes one to know one." Somehow it was clearly obvious what no one had told me: that stirring of recognition is the wakening of a crucial capacity. At its fruition, it becomes unshakeable certainty about awakeness: no need for another's approval, certification, dispute or agreement. Just knowing what you know [and equanimity about what you don't know, for that matter].

Even if you didn't ask!

In case this observation seems at odds with my quibbles above-- those are about whether 'enlightenment' is some massive end-point, or, rather, a functional confidence that is very quiet and modest, just goes about its business with an unobtrusive joy.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 14:33 #7930

Chris Marti wrote:
... It is a trap to think that everyone follows the same path, has the same experiences, gets the same attainments in the same order. We know for a fact that that is simply not true. Not even close. There are people practicing in traditions outside of the Theravada/Practical Dharma models who have no experience of paths, stream entry, or much else that we might recognize, but who are very much awake. I think it's important we stop limiting ourselves to a model that, while it works for those who pursue it, is by no means the only path and is probably not even the most common path.

Second that. I believe each yogi has idiosyncratic markers for their inner experience and notices different details about the experience (though I do believe there are often commonalities). For years I wasn't sure if I had cessations/fruitions because of the way they were described and because I focused more on the bliss wave that followed - and it took a lot of re-examination to see "Well yes, there was a radical discontinuity prior to that."Just didn't see that part as important...

With this young lady, she had certain markers such as empathic openings and cognitive changes following her period of prayer and thought of her transformation as a slow process. When I described fruition, this didn't seem familiar, and I tried to describe my first one I said, "you know, it's almost like being born again, washed clean as you emerge out of the Void - I wonder if that's what Jesus was really talking about..." and her eyes lit up and she said that she knew EXACTLY what I was talking about! I went on to say that with most people if they said they had been "born again" it was like "Well, I'm really happy for you but it seems as though we can't really talk anymore..." She gasped and said "I KNOW!!" (meaning that the experience was qualitatively different than the conventional born again thing I guess).

Point is, I look at a lot of different things when I try to do "dharma diagnosis" and the possibly the primary thing is an intuitive grasp of the level of insight that the person exhibits. It's actually quite difficult, and in some ways, doesn't change the nature of one's practice. It took me about 3 years to finalize a diagnosis for myself and interacting with a lot of very experienced practitioners, and comparing multiple maps from various traditions - none of which my experience fit precisely. Having said that, the Theravada maps are among the best ones - as far as I can tell no one really has good ones after 1st path (the paths constituting HUGE generalizations).

@Kate: I agree with you. There may be as many "enlightenments" as there are enlightened people.
Last Edit: 18 Nov 2012 14:48 by David.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 15:21 #7931

Chris Marti wrote:
Mark, you have insights that tell me that you are not where you seem to think you are. It is a trap to think that everyone follows the same path, has the same experiences, gets the same attainments in the same order. We know for a fact that that is simply not true. Not even close. There are people practicing in traditions outside of the Theravada/Practical Dharma models who have no experience of paths, stream entry, or much else that we might recognize, but who are very much awake. I think it's important we stop limiting ourselves to a model that, while it works for those who pursue it, is by no means the only path and is probably not even the most common path.


Thanks for spelling that out, Chris. I think this is the 1st time that I'm getting it how I need to ditch the zen kensho and theravada path models I've carried for years when it comes to explaining my experience to myself. Also I need to seriously question my hopes and ideas about how being awake is going to change the way I am into something else. And investigate comparing and requiring myself to be like others.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 15:45 #7933

David wrote:
How common or rare is it?

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, I'd say it's once in a lifetime.

But this is not just me cracking a joke, but also me asking "so everybody gets their own enlightenment then? Are we counting enlightenments here? Is there more than one enlightenment? What, if not that, are we counting?"

But to throw a number out there: How many teachers are there that we know of, with today's easy communication possibilities? A few thousand at best? Multiply by the factor of how many enlightened people there are (who don't teach) per enlightened teacher - and it's still a few thousand.

Cheers,
Florian
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 16:08 #7934

Please note the various and sundry ways this topic is being processed by everyone here.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 18 Nov 2012 16:22 #7936

Chris Marti wrote:
Please note the various and sundry ways this topic is being processed by everyone here.

The variety is what makes it rare. Commodities are standardized.

Cheers,
Florian
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 06:03 #7939

Chris Marti wrote:
Please note the various and sundry ways this topic is being processed by everyone here.

That is interesting... What is your take on that, Chris?

As far as why I'm counting or doing this informal survey, I know it's rare at least for me to meet someone that I believe has gotten stream entry - and the other bit is that the woman I mentioned stopped practicing. When I asked her why she had stopped something that had clearly had such profoundly beneficial effects on her, she stated she felt hypocritical doing the praying practice when she no longer attended church.

I think what I want to covey is that a variety of practices lead to a similar end result, that there are archetypal stages to the process (e.g. Paths or something like them for a lot of people), that if she attained the first stage (which I need to confirm, and make sure she actually hasn't already gone past), then it's highly recommended that she complete the process...

I don't know - maybe that's a little Theravada dogmatic now that I look at it...
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 08:45 #7941

if her existing practice opened her this far, chances are good it will serve going forward, and she will already be motivated to continue? or is she suddenly feeling lost and confused?

eta (Never mind - I missed the part of your post where you addressed this.)
Last Edit: 19 Nov 2012 09:38 by Ona Kiser. Reason: update
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 08:53 #7942

I would need Florian to explain his comment more because I don't understand it well enough to comment.

Anyway, my take on this remains the same -- we can't answer the question effectively because we have such a tiny sample to use to infer the frequency of waking up.
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 09:02 #7943

She'll find another way to practice if Christianity no longer appeals to her.

Maybe she's grieving the loss of her Christian identity?

Maybe she's lonely and simultaneously wary of joining some new group because she's afraid of losing that, too, at one point (not an unreasonable expectation)?

Maybe the implications of her realization are still sending shock-waves through her world-view. Is (was) she Catholic?

So if she needs some time to adjust, she's entitled to that.

Cheers,
Florian
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 09:12 #7944

Chris Marti wrote:
I would need Florian to explain his comment more because I don't understand it well enough to comment.

Anyway, my take on this remains the same -- we can't answer the question effectively because we have such a tiny sample to use to infer the frequency of waking up.

Well, we're talking "highly subjective, personal" stuff here. I'm not surprised we're not all giving the same answers - we don't do so when discussing other matters, either, so why expect agreement here of all places?

Here's a thought: aren't we looking at the wrong level of magnification? It's as if we were trying to find "life" in all the individual chemical reactions taking place in a living cell: we won't find the ingredient called "life" there. Now imagine a group of hard-core/pragmatic geeks trying to find "enlightenment" in the chemical reactions of a living cell - it's a no-brainer, isn't it? (But there are geeks looking at fMRI data... oh my).

But looking for enlightenment at the level of individual beings could be just as misguided, I often think.

Cheers,
Florian
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 10:00 #7945

Florian Weps wrote:

But looking for enlightenment at the level of individual beings could be just as misguided, I often think.

Now that's an interesting thought! Kind of speaks to Thich Naht Hahn's notion of "Inter-being".

@Ona - I'm going to try to find out some of that stuff today including firming up the diagnosis. My basic sense is that she had no idea what happened to her (she wasn't praying with that end in mind) and when her suffering was substantially less, she had less motivation to practice so she stopped, not knowing that there are stages to the process.

This whole idea of helping other people do this is extremely exciting to me!
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Re: How rare is Enlightenment? 19 Nov 2012 10:02 #7946

I can't really conclude anything here, but I wish I could make sense of what the famous medieval and early modern Christian mystics were up to, people like Meister Eckhart, for example. I cheated and read a few of his sermons on my retreat with Leigh Brasington; Leigh says his teacher Ayya Khema thinks Eckhart got the jhanas on his own. I think he got stream entry and beyond as well. But I'm also interested in some of the female mystics like Julian of Norwich, many of whose experiences tended to be highly visual (in contrast to Eckhart).

I have other questions as well but will end now.
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